Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Government Guilty - Now What?

Attorney Richard Hollow got it right in his statement about a Knox County jury finding County government was guilty of violating the law on open meetings:

This is the first time in the history of Tennessee that a jury has been asked to sit in judgment of its government,” said [KNS Editor Jack] McElroy’s attorney, Richard Hollow. “(The trial itself) is a tremendous victory for the people of Tennessee."

Judge Fansler now considers what to do - current law does not really provide a punishment or a clear course to corrective action when government is found guilty of these charges.

In a perfect world, I would like to see the Judge be able to rule that a special election for the county commission seats be held very soon, and that seems to me to be the one option which would serve best the residents who still consider representative government vital. I doubt he will rule in such a way, and even if he did, he would be stepping into waters any attorney could challenge.

There is an option of existing county officials deciding to do what's best for residents and not what's best for themselves or their careers. I have little belief that's going to happen, based on the reality that just about all elected legislative bodies consistently fudge the law on public deliberations in every county in Tennessee (and likely, in the whole dang world).

For punishment? The law should be altered by state legislators so that any elected official who is found guilty of violating open meeting standards must resign and be barred from seeking elected office again. That might be enough of a deterrent to stop distorting representative government. The problem remains of how residents can report violations and get oversight and judicial review of any offenses. If the KNS had not moved forward with this lawsuit, no headline of "Government Guilty" would exist today.

I should mention too that blogger Russ McBee has been tracking how local media covered this trial on many posts. Excellent overviews and commentary can be found at his site.

And Shots Across the Bow also raises an excellent point in this whole mess:

I say probably because there is one more reason why the people of Knox County have no cause to celebrate just yet.

This whole mess is their fault.

The folks in Knox County elected commissioners they knew were term limited. Sure, now they want to sit back and jeer at the commissioners, but during the election, they either pulled the lever for them, or stayed at home on election day. What we can't be allowed to forget is that the twelve people who vacated their offices were openly elected by a populace who knew they were likely to be found term limited.

And given that only 8% of eligible voters voted in the City Primary a week ago, I don't see anything getting any better.

So if you're looking for huzzahs and hoorays, look elsewhere. The problem is still here and it's just as bad."

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