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Municipal Law FAQs

Sometimes, research into legal questions does not lead to definitive conclusions. An issue might fall into an area where case law or guidance from the Office of the Attorney General has not caught up with circumstances as they exist in practice.

At the Annual Meeting of the SC Municipal Attorneys Association in December, Municipal Association General Counsel Eric Shytle and attorney Lawrence Flynn of Pope Flynn LLC discussed some of the more persistent issues they have heard from cities and towns.

As Shytle noted, “These are questions to which there is really no easy legal answer,” but even so, they are worthy of consideration and caution among municipal leaders. 

Records retention

South Carolina’s Public Records Act, found at SC Code 30-1-10, establishes a misdemeanor for destroying public records, defined as “all books, papers, maps, photographs, cards, tapes, recordings, or other documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body.” 

The SC Department of Archives and History offers general record retention schedules, found online, which municipalities can use unless they opt to establish specific schedules themselves. 

While the state’s retention schedules set the length of time that cities must hold onto particular kinds of records, they only received their last updates in 2003. As such, the retention schedules do not substantially address types of electronic records that have become more prevalent since then, and which are considered public records — emails or social media posts. Text messages of officials or staff conducting government business are considered public records, and they can be challenging to preserve and access. 

Municipalities should watch out for records not being preserved in accordance with established retention policy, Flynn said. 

“One thing to take away from the discussion today is to go back and ask your community, ‘do we have a full records retention policy? Have we worked with the Department of Archives to be able to maintain it?” he said. 


Indemnification provisions, or a “hold harmless” clause, are a common feature of contracts in which one party agrees to pay expenses on behalf of the other party for issues like claims or disputes. Opinions of the SC Office of the Attorney General have repeatedly affirmed that neither the state government nor its subdivisions, including municipalities, have any authority to enter into indemnification agreements. 

The difficulty is that many common types of contracts that municipalities use, such as software licenses, payment processing services or bond purchase agreements, will have indemnification provisions, and the company offering the service will not negotiate the clause out of its contract. 

When the issue arises, Shytle said it could be helpful to “have somehow documented outside the contract, either in a legal opinion or in correspondence, ‘please be on notice that indemnification provisions are not enforceable in South Carolina.’” 

Development and street maintenance

South Carolina’s growing population has not only increased the traffic strain on its roads, Shytle said, but has also led “to a lot of interesting questions about the degree to which counties can control growth and development inside municipalities.” 

This includes cases of county governments not accepting a municipality’s new subdivision streets into their road systems for ongoing funding when the developments do not meet the county’s density requirements. 

Cities may want to be mindful of their county government’s concerns when making planning decisions, Shytle said, communicating with their county and focusing on the impacts of growth in their comprehensive plans.

The SC Municipal Attorneys Association provides an annual training session and access to a listserve for municipal attorneys. The training session is approved by the SC Supreme Court Commission on CLE and Specialization. Learn more about the SC Municipal Attorneys Association.