New Website For Open Meetings Laws

22 12 2007

New Website for your perusal called Open Meetings Laws – Tennessee.

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Check it out, brand spanking new. You can also go here to read more.

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‘..don’t meet in secret and your safe.’

13 12 2007

So, I’ve been banging on a gong about the Sunshine Law here in our fair state. I’ve been pulling hair and gnashing teeth with a few other folks and we have been trying to get your attention.

And, it appears that it’s working to a degree and that delights me to no end.

Here are some observations I’ve noticed, and if you want an ongoing list about this, check out Michael Silence or TennViews for their daily snippets about what Tennesseans are saying.

But, I guess I need to answer some questions. A couple of folks have asked me if I have a vested interest in the future of the Law because of what I do for a living. That’s fair.

Although I should have anticipated that my assertion on the matter would spark questions, I just haven’t had  enough time to address some of the concerns.

First of all, I was called an “interested party” over at Left Wing Cracker and that is unabashedly the truth, but not because I work in a small slice of the media. I probably have more access to a great deal, quite frankly, in my local environment than the average bear. I’ve worked here for 17 years in different capacities. I tell you that in the spirit of disclosure.

I’m a human who makes mistakes but I also have a reputation for being fair that I’ve worked very hard to gain. The relationships that I’ve forged have allowed an ongoing dialogue over the years.  With that said, in my little pond where I’m planted, information isn’t that hard to get.

Why am I telling you this?

Easy, because I’ve said time and time again it’s not about the media having access. Government uses the media (and it’s a two way street) when they need something and I work in a business that is all about communication. Most times this relationship works.

The choice of average citizens having access to these meetings is what I have said and I will keep on saying because it is crucial. Media has changed so much since I became involved (I used to actually splice tape from a reel-to-reel for soundbites for my news broadcasts. I didn’t mix or sample, I used a razor blade to find the spot that I needed and *snip*) Now, we have the world of citizen journalists, folks taking video with cell phones and keeping up with government and policy through this wonderful self-publishing platforms you are reading right now.

I’m thinking it has people confused, especially those folks in government. Hell, I’m confused about it myself sometimes because it changes so fast. Sometimes I read Jackson Miller or Doug at Reality Me and go “Huh” because I’m trying to keep up with new online applications of communications.

The Ken Whiteheads, the Tom Humphreys, the John Carneys and the Jack Lails are going to have access as well in much larger markets than the one I’m in.

We are going to be all right.

But what about the guy that is not a traditional journalist or the person on the street who is interested. What if decisions are made that impact the Average Joes lives and we, as citizens not media) are blindsided by it.

Vibinc wrote this yesterday and he hits it on the head:

Citizens have a right to know the pros and cons of any business that comes before a public body. This is the nature of our democratic republic. Efforts to subvert this flow of information, regardless of whether the public uses it or not, also subvert the spirit of our representative form of government.

Considering all of the shenanigans that have taken place over the past several years, one would think that members of local boards would want to insulate themselves from any appearance of impropriety. Instead we have elected officials seeking to weaken the public meetings portion of the law by increasing the number of people that can meet privately to 2 or 3 or even more maddeningly, anything less than a quorum, to supposedly insulate themselves from potential prosecution. Here’s an idea, don’t meet in secret and you’re safe.

See, he gets that it’s about citizens.

I hope I have disclosed well enough.  You are right, I am an interested party. And when I read stories like this about our nation’s leader expanding government 1,100 times since he took office, so many times through presidential directives, I pay attention. It’s unrelated, but then again, we don’t want our state’s elected officials to place them in positions where the will of the people is ignored for convenience’s sake.

We vote for those who govern. The average citizen can make more of a difference than a member of the media, in all honesty.
I probably won’t be in news in the next couple of years, but I am a citizen as well. And I want to know what’s going on.

After all, it’s our country, not the handful of the elected.





Sunshine Law Under A Dark Cloud

28 11 2007

Am I apart of this world? Are politicians and policy makers respresenting me? Are they representing you?

According to things that have happened in the last 24 hours, I would say no.

Wait, the Sunshine law is not so sunshiney today.

From the Chattanooga Pulse, who breaks it down:

Local government could meet in executive session to talk about what they want to offer or accept when talking about buying, selling, leasing or debating the market value of land or buildings. Publicly owned hospitals could talk about marketing strategies and strategic plans outside public view. School boards could talk about and grade a superintendent outside public view. The schools also could talk about land deals.

Do I have to pay taxes if they aren’t paying attention? Do I have a choice? Nope.

But, now things are changing. It’s not, as I’ve said 100 times, not about journalists. It’s about average citizens. It’s about things being discussed without input of government’s main boss.

That would be you.

This is utterly ridiculous.

Here’s why:

No Silence Here

R. Neal

I’m putting bloggers here, because these guys have been on top of things. Go read what they’ve been up to.

Here’s the story from the Nashville City Paper.

A pair of votes Tuesday was all that stood between recommending a state ombudsperson with no defined duties and one who was legally charged to help improve Tennesseans’ access to public records.

The Open Government Study Committee, which is charged with the task of studying and improving access to government, could have gone one of two ways: vote to recommend changes to the open records law with defined duties for the ombudsperson, or vote, as Nashville attorney George Barrett recommended, to do nothing.

Barrett’s move to not make any recommended changes to the Open Records Act fell two votes short, only garnering eight of the 10 votes needed for passage.

Instead, after lengthy deliberation, the open government panel voted unanimously to recommend changes to the state’s Open Records Act that included prescribed duties for the ombudsperson.

The state’s newly created “ombudsperson” will have the ability to issue informal opinions to Tennesseans on open record issues.

The ombudsperson, which was funded for the first time in this year’s state budget, will also be able to answer questions from “any person, including local government officials, the general public and the media” regarding open records.

An ombudsperson. “Informal Opinions?” What the hell is an informal opinion?

Guh-reat. I don’t think this will make a difference.





Sunshine Is The Best Disinfectant

2 11 2007

It’s not journalists who are under attack.

It’s the people of Tennessee.

It’s always been about John and Jane Doe having the right to know.

And if the Open Meetings Law is gutted, then this is just one more right taken away. One we need.
Politicians, hear me now, an informed citzen is a scary thing to you, I get that.

But it’s not your government.

It’s ours.

(Write your elected officials here.)

Also, Joe Lance is blogherding and keeping an updated roundup and Michael Silence says it best right here:

Bloggers. You are the 21st century’s new watchdogs. The General Assembly goes back in session in January 2008. Do us all a favor and keep a close eye on any attempts to cut you out of public decisions and the decision-making process at the local and state levels. If you post something on this topic, e-mail me the link and I’ll post it, too. I will also create a new category on the right rail to store all the postings on the Sunshine Law.

This is not a partisan issue. It is a public’s right to know issue.

Frankly, I think it would be political suicide to tamper with the 33-year-old Open Meetings Act. Then again, nothing with the General Assembly surprises me anymore.

Well said, Michael. Well said.