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.

New Website For Open Meetings Laws

22 12 2007

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


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


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.


‘..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.

Sunshine Law Rendered Meaningless?

15 11 2007

Russ McBee breaks down the ramifications of changes in the Sunshine Law just about as good as I’ve seen. I honestly don’t think that people always understand the need for Open Government. It is also my opinion that it is a variety of things, including corporate entities with public ties that fall under the law that want this changed as much as politicians, who want to do what they want to do without intervention.

What Russ says:

The sunshine law prevents the heads of those two camps from meeting in secret to hammer out an agreement between them and thus garnering a majority of the commission by virtue of their leadership positions. By increasing the forbidden number of members meeting in secret to four (as the committee has proposed), the spirit and intent of the sunshine law will be rendered meaningless.

Sunshine has a fatal effect on vampires; I guess it’s no surprise the blood-suckers in our county government want to shield themselves from it.

I go back to it being the government of the people. Not journalists, but people.  The Memphis Daily Journal has the AP story about the possible changes.

There is a battle going on, did you know that? It’s about the right to know. You might think all this stuff is small potatoes or think it doesn’t affect you, but it does.

Four members being able to meet in private is too many. The business of government needs to be out in the open. I’ve been to hundreds of meetings where no one, except a couple of members of the press, never showed up. But they could. Tennesseans had the option.

Then, I’ve been to hot-topic meetings (consolidation of the high schools in the mid-90’s comes to mind) where you couldn’t move due to the sea of outraged citizens. I covered the meeting sitting at a judges desk sharing a chair with a man while holding a microphone (I was in radio then.)

The people decided that particular issue was important. They wanted to know what was going on. This, of course, is just an example but remember this. THE PEOPLE DECIDED they needed to exercise their voice and they did. They decided to use their rights.

They had the option to know.

The whole thing in Knoxville is so transparent that it would be laughable if it wasn’t sickening. Then, this happens. Private-deals get the commission in hot water, so now a legislative committee wants to change the way open meetings are held?  Coincidence, maybe, but folks in control have wanted to change the Sunshine Law for years. It’s inconvenient for them.

Well, good.

Imagine if no one could have gone to that consolidation meeting fifteen years ago. Imagine if there hadn’t been a dialogue about the future of their kids. There was a compromise made which suited no one, but the people’s voice was heard. Mind-boggling.

If these laws are changed, then it will take a generation to get them changed back. And, the laws are really ambiguous enough right now to confuse people who think these laws are just for journalists. Frank Gibson of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has been preaching this for years.

This issue is important. And we need to raise our voices to the rooftops.

Don’t give up your rights. They are yours. It’s your government, God knows you are paying for those meetings with your tax dollars.


A Letter To The Editor That Scares The Hell Out of Me

6 11 2007

Oh NO!

From the Daily Journal the letter begins like this:

This letter references Sunday’s (Oct. 28) “Silence shuts up openness” column written by Executive Editor Jimmy Hart taking issue, along with some other members of the media, with an action best explained by quoting from the Chattanooga Times/Free Press as follows


In my opinion this is a step to modernize the political process by allowing an exchange of thought or information without the risk of being misquoted by the press. To me elected officials should, to some reasonable degree, be allowed to protect their conversations as much as the media has the right to “protect their sources.” To assume that these conversations did not go on because they were illegal is ludicrous.

I weep. The sunshine law is for PEOPLE, not the press.

Why don’t people get that?

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.