Editorial Roundup: South Carolina

Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:

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March 24

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The Index-Journal on responsibly reporting on the new coronavirus:

Newspapers are accustomed to criticism. It comes with the territory. This newspaper has not shied away from publishing letters to the editor that are critical of its coverage of news and events, even when the criticism seems unwarranted or just a bit over the top.

That said, we are compelled to address a letter to the editor published on this page. In particular, we focus on this statement: “It would behoove the Index-Journal to do more basic investigation on the relevance of the coronavirus instead of mindlessly regurgitating the output of the panic promoters in the media. The nation as a whole should take a deep breath and take a sensible view of where we are as a nation and what are our perspectives. Previous generations had far more serious things to cope with.”

The Index-Journal is a small community daily newspaper. When at full staff, we have four writers dedicated to news coverage, two dedicated to sports and one dedicated mainly to features. At this time, the newspaper remains understaffed by one and is trying to fill that void.

Whether at full staff or half, the Index-Journal does take pride in its work and its effort to provide accurate information for its readers, even and especially during such trying times as when a health crisis is sweeping the globe. Toward that end, we have been busy interviewing health officials, gleaning information from emergency services personnel and others throughout the Lakelands.

We are not a major metro newspaper equipped with a cadre of reporters from all areas of expertise, but we do know how to ask questions and try to make sense of this situation best we can for our readers. Our efforts are about deploying helpful information, as well as anecdotal and human interest stories reflective of the community’s response to COVID-19.

The Associated Press is the news service we have been paying members of for decades and so, yes, we do rely on the larger scale stories that outlet provides us and readers across the nation, around the globe.

Whether one wants to believe those stories and ours is up to the individual reader. Whether one wants to presume television broadcasters, news wire services and even this newspaper are merely trying to promote panic is also up to the individual reader.

We can assure you, however, that is not our intent. We believe we would be irresponsible by not sharing the news we can gather for our readers. Let’s assume we opted to treat COVID-19 as if it were nothing more than the common cold and published little to nothing that is being told, that is being done locally, nationally and globally. Then let’s assume the death toll that is being amassed in other parts of the world reaches our shorelines and beyond. Would you not be incensed that we had taken such a lackadaisical approach to reporting?

If you want to treat COVID-19 like it’s another Y2K, if you doubt its authenticity the way many doubted — and yet doubt, mind you — that the U.S. put a man on the moon, so be it. As for us, we’ll continue doing our due diligence in disseminating news we believe you can use, news you need.

We believe our work is mindful of our readers, not mindless regurgitation.

Online: http://www.indexjournal.com/

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March 24

The Post and Courier on banning remote council meetings on non-important matters:

This is not how open, participatory government is supposed to work.

On Monday, the Charleston County School District spaced out chairs in the board room so about 20 members of the public could listen in while Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait and school board Chairman Eric Mack convened a telephone conference call with the disembodied voices of board members who stayed away to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The board approved bond authorizations, funds transfers, some student appeals — all items that have nothing to do with COVID-19, or anything else that strikes us as essential or urgent — as The Post and Courier’s Jenna Schiferl and a TV reporter looked on; apparently, and understandably, members of the public either didn’t know they could attend or didn’t feel safe doing so.

That evening, hours after Berkeley County closed public access to most county facilities and asked employees to work from home, County Council members proceeded by phone with their scheduled monthly meeting, where they approved their own raft of routine business that had nothing to do with the pandemic: $9 million worth of purchases and contracts and a “roundabout enhancement” effort by the Daniel Island Garden Club. The public’s only way to listen in was via audio livestream on the county’s Facebook page.

Then Tuesday, the Charleston City Council scheduled a phone-in meeting to impose tighter restrictions on public movement — and to take up several pages worth of zoning, spending and other matters that have nothing to do with the coronavirus.

And we were left wondering: What part of “you don’t do any sort of nonessential government when the public can’t participate” do local governments not understand?

Just as we as individuals can’t simply relocate our workplaces to our kitchen tables and go on with the rest of our lives as if nothing has changed, government can’t limit public access and go on with its business as usual. Or at least it shouldn’t be able to.

It’s one thing for a single member of a public body to participate by phone; it’s another thing entirely for most or all of the members to be somewhere other than where the public can offer feedback — even if that’s only by applauding or frowning — while a debate is taking place.

Just as leaving our homes for anything other than essential business endangers the public health, holding government meetings to conduct anything other than essential and urgent business when the public can’t be physically present endangers the very essence of a free society: open, participatory government.

In the long term, that is as dangerous as a public-health threat.

As we argued a week ago, South Carolina’s elected bodies need to suspend action on anything that isn’t urgent until it’s safe to let the public back in.

The Legislature has done that, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, local governments and school boards are notorious for violating the state’s open-meetings law; to expect them to go beyond compliance and use good sense could be a bridge too far.

State law grants the governor extraordinary authority in a state of emergency, including the ability to “compel performance by elected and appointed state, county, and municipal officials and employees of the emergency duties and functions assigned them in the State Emergency Plan or by Executive Order.”

If that means Gov. Henry McMaster can order the Department of Revenue to allow restaurants to extend their pick-up services to include alcoholic beverages, then surely it means he can order public bodies to refrain from meeting remotely for actions that aren’t urgent. Because of the spotty good sense of elected officials when it comes to operating in full sunlight, he should do so.

After the emergency has passed, the Legislature should consider some permanent limits on what sort of business local governments, school boards and state boards and commissions can conduct remotely.

Online: https://www.postandcourier.com/

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March 19

The Times and Democrat on meeting employment needs:

As much as the coronavirus crisis has impacted business and finance and stands to do so further, there will be recovery. Markets will recover. People will recover.

Before it’s lost in the March translation, let's look at an important measure of economic health from the world of small business, the backbone of the economy. The news comes from the National Federation of Independent Business.

Small business owners expressed higher levels of optimism in February with the NFIB Optimism Index moving up 0.2 points to 104.5 -- a reading that’s among the top 10% in survey’s 46-year history. Those expecting better business conditions increased, and job creation and openings improved as well. Real sales expectations declined, as did capital expenditure and inventory plans.

“The small business economic expansion continued its historic run in February, as owners remained focused on growing their businesses in this supportive tax and regulatory environment,” NFIB Chief Economist William Dunkelberg said.

State-specific data is unavailable, but NFIB State Director Ben Homeyer said, “Small business optimism has been historically strong for a while now, and, hopefully, our members will continue to add jobs and grow their businesses.”

While this measure stands to be greatly impacted in March by the coronavirus fallout, February reports of better business conditions in the next six months improved 8 points, to a net 22%, according to the survey. The NFIB Uncertainty Index fell one point in February to 80. Those who say it is a good time to expand dipped 2 points to 26%.

Of particular note is the news about jobs.

As reported in NFIB’s monthly report, small business owners added an average of 0.43 workers per firm, but finding qualified workers remained the top issue with 25% reporting this as their number one problem, 2 points below August’s record high. Twenty-five percent of the owners selected “finding qualified labor” as their top business problem, far more than those citing either taxes or regulations.

Historically high percentages of owners said they planned to raise worker compensation. Seasonally adjusted, a net 36% reported raising compensation (unchanged) and a net 19% plan to do so in the coming months, down 5 points from January. Eight percent cited labor costs as their top problem.

“Firms will likely continue offering improved compensation to attract and retain qualified workers as the labor market remains highly competitive,” Dunkelberg said. “Compensation levels will hold firm unless the economy weakens substantially as owners do not want to lose the workers that they already have.”

Dunkelberg qualifies the report with this statement: “February was another historically strong month for the small business economy, but it’s worth noting that nearly all of the survey’s responses were collected prior to the recent escalation of the coronavirus outbreak and the Federal Reserve rate cut. Business is good, but the coronavirus outbreak remains the big unknown.”

The coronavirus is negatively impacting the economy and with it the optimism and reality for small business. But even in uncertain times, there is a need for qualified people to fill jobs that are available. Continuing efforts to meet employment needs will be a high priority in the wake of the coronavirus.

Online: https://thetandd.com/