Open Meetings Law Conversation Out of Kingsport

28 01 2008

From a new blog (or new to me at least) out of Kingsport which is talking about Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act:

You have a right to know what the government is doing at the Federal, State, County, or City level. You have a right to attend meetings and can have access to most records.

Tennessee’s Sunshine law states that any meeting is open to the public except as provided by the Tennessee Constitution, when two or more members of a governing body get together to deliberate toward a decision or a group making recommendations to a governing body. The Open Meetings Act does not prescribe when governing bodies must conduct meetings. Instead, it defines when meetings must be open to the public.

The public can attend the City of Kingsport, TN Work Sessions that are held each 1st and 3rd Monday of each month at 4:30 p.m., City Hall, Small Board Room, 2nd Floor. Regular Business Meetings are held each 1st and 3rd Tuesday of each month at 7:00 p.m., Large Court Room, 2nd Floor, City Hall. The public is invited to attend meetings of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Also, on Charter cable channel 16, you can watch the Business Meeting live.

Well done with the addition of how the average citizen can be involved in their local government.

Sometimes taking personal action of being a part of things is the best thing to do. Because, my friends, it causes a reaction.

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New Website For Open Meetings Laws

22 12 2007

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

sunbmp.jpg

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





Brilliant

19 12 2007

Without comment, because it doesn’t need it about the Sunshine Law:

The citizens of Tennessee are ill-served by any attempt to hide deliberations of the public’s business from the people those deliberations affect. This proposed evisceration of the sunshine law should and must be turned away if we are to consider the notion of government accountability anything more than a quaint relic from a naive past.

Whoa.





‘..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.





Breaking It Down

2 12 2007

Jack Lail said in one sentence what I was trying to say, and I rather stumbled, at a comment thread over the weekend at Volunteer Voters.

Best thing that could happen now is to leave the totally ineffectual, weak Tennessee Open Meetings law as is cause the reforms are worse

Russ McBee also broke it down quite effectively in this post here:

If this change to the sunshine law is approved, the Legislature might as well go ahead and just repeal the thing entirely, since it will no longer have any meaning.

This change would permit a level of corruption that would far surpass anything we’ve seen so far in our local legislative bodies, and that level of corruption is already unacceptably high.

They are saying it better than anyone right now.

UPDATE: More from Michael Silence. 





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.





Going Local With The Open Meetings Law

20 11 2007

As I have to go chop celery and onions in a few minutes to make sure my minions have dressing for Thanksgiving, I want to talk to you a few minutes about the sunshine law.

At a recent county commission meeting, our chief staff writer extradonaire left a questionnaire for our local guys about changes in the Open Meetings Act.

She told me today she got eight of the anonymous ballots back. Six out of eight that we received said they WANTED changes in the law to go from two to four. We asked for an explanation of why they wanted the changes and, of course, crickets. We are waiting on the results from ten additional elected officials.

They will be asked on the record as well but we wanted to get a feel for their sentiments. Not sure if the numbers will match up. We will see.

Memphis, Knoxville, Middle Tennessee and Rural America, campers, are getting lambasted on this issue. We are too busy talking about things that are distractions.

You have a right to know what your government is doing.

Silence writes this:

If this keeps spreading, you won’t know about it. Also, you won’t know how many tax dollars you are paying to not know about it.

There should be no compromise.

I find this very disheartening, to say the least. I would recommend that more folks watch this.

I go back to that the Open Meetings Law is for citizens, not journalists.  But no one is talking.  We need to be talking about this.

Now. Not later.

Later is always after things change. This time, change is not for the good.

So, I went and talked to a retired alderman about it all that used to always talk, damn the torpedoes. (Incidentally, he’s a GOP guy). He didn’t know what was going on, which states that we (including myself) aren’t shaking the rafters hard enough.

He said this is disgraceful.

I agree.