Monday, April 24, 2006

Will TN Have Open Govenment ?

Will the state's legislature enact a bill aimed at making the refusal to comply with requests for public records an offense with a $50 fine? Is that even close to the correct action? Also in the bill up for consideration, "Sunshine in Government Improvement Act of 2006", it states that officials may not meet privately to debate/discuss business, and recently the Attorney General has issued several opinions that the law applies to a wide range of government and advisory boards.

Sadly, an ammendment filed by Sen. Cohen would defer all action on the bill to a committee whose final report would not see the light of day until Feb. 2007. Seems that if this is approved, those seeking re-election could avoid the entire issue.

A $50 fine seems too little, in my opinion. Give this bill some teeth by making the punishment removal from office for those who refuse access and resolve this lack of accountability in government. And the same punishment should apply to elected officials who meet outside of public view to discuss the people's business.

Or will we wait until another federal investigation finds more bribes and influence peddling at the state capitol?

More here.

UPDATE: Sadly, numerous county commissions across the state, as well as some city and school officials, have gone on record as opposing this legislation. This despite actions by elected officials taken almost daily to observe and correct behavior of it's residents - whether in traffic, seeking medical assistance, or buying cold medication. While residents comply the state hides from scrutiny.


  1. Fifty Bucks.
    I wish the public understood that open records/sunshine laws are designed for them, not the "big bad press."
    I guess we'll take it, but the bottom line is those meeting such as utility boards or TML are the ones that the public gets snookered and they are the folks who aren't wanting them anymore than the politicians.

  2. One of my commissioners who used to be a road lobbyist said to me we are spinning our wheels in wanting some teeth in the law.
    They all meet at the local Elks lodge every night for drinks anyway.

  3. Joe,

    Freedom isn't automatically free. And open records aren't automatically open.

    Unfortunately, you have to fight and be vigilant in protecting your basic freedoms as well as your right of access to public records.

    Obstacles are constantly thrown in the way of those who want to gain access to public documents.

    Despite the obstacles, I can tell you from experience that the open records law in Tennessee is the key to knowing what is going on locally, who is getting what contract, where the money is going, and on and on.

  4. Joe,

    My previous comments were about the open records laws. I just want to add that I agree that Tennessee's open meetings laws need more teeth as well.

    If the open meetings laws are enforced, it will help eliminate the "meeting before the meeting."

    Public meetings and public discussion might take a bit longer, but that's OK.

    In fact, longer meetings with public discussion and deliberation are good.

    With public discussion, citizens can see if their commissioner/ councilman/lawmaker has a clue about what's going on or if he/she is just a rubberstamp for someone else.

    My previous comments about Tennessee's open records law are about ensuring that "sunshine" exists in that area also.

    The more sunshine, the better!

  5. Agreed, Linda. I think more public discussion also provides an opportunity for the public to get a true lesson in civics and governmental operations. The more behind-the-scenes an elected or advisory board, the less informed the public.

    And Newscoma, that "AUGH" was distinctly Charles Schultz! An expression of futility at the base of a kite-eating tree, LOL!