tntransparency

Archive for April, 2012|Monthly archive page

Governor’s administration must prove records are not public or comply with law

In Advocacy on April 30, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Transparency in Government,” website state’s his administration is “Committed to Open Government.” However, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported Monday, “Gov. Bill Haslam’s staff solicited input from nearly a dozen regulated utilities or industry associations about the administration’s controversial legislation to overhaul the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, records obtained by the Chattanooga Times Free Press show. But the governor and his legal counsel Herbert Slatery are refusing to divulge some of the advice they received or who provided it” (see URL below). State law specifically says, “The burden of proof for justification of nondisclosure of records sought shall be upon the official and/or designee of the official of those records and the justification for the nondisclosure must be shown by a preponderance of the evidence.” (T.C.A. 10-7-505 (c) ). For the governor’s administration to simply say that the requested information is protected under attorney client privilege or “deliberative process privilege” is not good enough. If the administration is going to comply with the law, it must prove by statute or by case law that the requested information is, in fact, not a public record. The records requestor  does not have to prove that it is public.

* Copy and paste URL in address bar:

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2012/apr/30/governor-bill-haslams-staff-declines-request-advic/?local

TEA Party Volunteers championing transparency

In Advocacy on April 28, 2012 at 12:59 am

TEA Party Volunteers are taking a strong interest in local government transparency. As members of the TEA party advocate for citizen’s rights, along with smaller and less intrusive government, many have said they believe that citizens’ rights of access to their government are critical to keeping government in check. An active group of TEA Party Volunteers have now invited the Tennessee Transparency Project to speak to like-minded citizens at its May meeting to discuss the importance of transparency and mechanisms that local citizens can employ to keep government in check. 

County, city audits can be accessed via Transparency Project

In Advocacy on April 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Numerous public records are available for public inspection from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury. Tennessee Transparency Project participants can also access those records from the project main page. At the right hand Blogroll sidebar can be found county fiscal audits, city audits and real estate assessments. To access the records select:

 

Violators of “Sunshine Law” will pay dearly

In Advocacy on April 25, 2012 at 8:27 pm

Public officials who violate the state’s Open Meetings Act and who withhold public records are going to have pay and pay dearly — at least in Georgia. While Tennessee lawmakers refuse to enact real penalties for violations of the “Sunshine Law,” the Georgia Press Association (GPA) reports that lawmakers in their state have approved stiff penalties during this legislative session of the General Assembly. GPA’s Sean Ireland reports, “Willful violations of the ORA (Open Records Act) now will result in a $1,000 fine for a first violation and a $2,500 fine for a second violation within 12 months. Violations of the OMA (Open Meetings Act) increase from $500 to $1,000 for the first offense and $2,500 for a second offense within 12 months.” While Tennessee has law governing open meetings and public records, and the law itself is not that bad, there are no immediate and personal repercussions for violations. A law without penalty has little teeth and is difficult to enforce. Perhaps Georgia lawmakers are beginning to realize that laws worth having are worth enforcing. The Georgia Press Association has served not only its members but the citizens of the state by advocating for laws with meaning. Tennessee lawmakers would do well to take notice. The victory in Georgia was not a victory for the “media,” it was win for all the citizens of that state.

Manchester officials may have two sets of public records, TSI says

In Advocacy on April 24, 2012 at 5:39 pm

The Saturday Independent (TSI) is keeping its eyes on officials in Coffee County. TSI’s Chip Ramsey reported to the Tennessee Transparency Project what was identified as “misuse of Manchester City equipment and county inmates by Manchester City elected officials and police officers.” As part of the investigative probe TSI reported, “In our investigation, we were told from three sources that there are two sets of personnel files at city hall in Manchester – one for public view, another hidden.” As the result, TSI reports that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has made inquiries into the alleged activity involving city employees and the use of inmates. Find a more complete report at www.http://tsinews.com/wordpress/misconduct-story-an-ongoing-probe/

Share your investigations with Tennessee Transparency Project.

General Assembly members huddle over budget at restaurant, Associated Press says

In Advocacy on April 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

The Associated Press State Wire reported Monday that members of the Tennessee General Assembly met together at a Nashville eating establishment over the weekend to hammer out details as they work to finalize the state budget. With no public, no press and likely few dissenting voices, state legislatures did what would be illegal for county commissioners, city councilmen or members of a local board of education. However, the General Assembly exempts itself from the Open Meetings Act. AP’s Erik Schelzig wrote, “Tennessee lawmakers’ long tradition of meeting secretly to hash out budget plans is alive and well.” In contrast, local lawmakers are prohibited, by law, from deliberating any of the public’s business in private (T.C.A. 8-44-101).

Important Public Records Training Video now available

In Advocacy on April 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

An important training video is available to citizens, public officials, records custodians, attorneys and anyone seeking information regarding access to public records in Tennessee. Elisha Hodge, JD, Open Records Counsel for the state of Tennessee, has produced a concise, informative and valuable video that is a tremendous resource for both records requestors and records custodians. Hodge teaches records requestors to (1) know exactly what you are looking for and avoid “fishing expeditions;” (2) know to whom the request is properly made; (3) know if you are requesting inspection or copies of the records; (3) know your rights and responsibilities as a requestor; and (4) know what fees might be expected for production of copies. Hodge teaches  records custodians to (1) have a good records management system; (2) know the retention schedule for records; (3) make sure office staff understands rights and responsibilities in regard to fielding and complying or denying requests requests; (4) know identification requirements; and (5) know legal basis for any records denial. She encourages both records requestors and records custodians to utilize the resources available to them, especially information available from the state’s official Office of Open Records / http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/openrecords/

The important video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AaNLRVtZLvk

House action threatens transparency in hiring

In Advocacy on April 18, 2012 at 4:00 pm

According to an Associated Press TN State Wire report, the Tennessee House of Representatives has approved a bill that would make the names of applicants to lead public colleges and universities confidential. According to AP, Republican Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, said he introduced the measure on behalf of the University of Tennessee’s board of trustees. “McCormick said the bill would encourage more candidates to apply for the jobs without fear of hurting their current employment. The names of the three finalists would become public at least 15 days before a decision is made about who gets the job, up from seven days in the original version,” AP reported. While the bill is limited in scope to conceal the names of applicants for high-profile, higher education positions, it has broad implications. Public positions should remain subject to public review and censure. Closing the application, vetting and interviewing process is not in the public’s best interest and the Senate and Governor should be circumspect as they consider this legislation that would be yet another threat to government transparency in Tennessee. 

Sumner County, Tennessee watchdog group keeping a watchful eye on local government

In Advocacy on April 17, 2012 at 7:30 pm

A watchdog group in Sumner County, keeping an eye on local government, following notification from the Tennessee Transparency Project, informed fellow citizens of the county’s poor marks by the Sunshine Review dolled out because of poor transparency on the county’s official website. Sumner County Gov Watch describes itself as project of Sumner United for Responsible Government (SURG).  The grassroots organization says its purpose is to “create a hub where the activities of all of Sumner County’s local governments can be reported, providing information to the public and keeping our local representatives accountable.” Activist Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world … indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The Tennessee Transparency Project encourages vistiors and would-be participants to click on read “WHAT MAKES YOUR PARTICIPATION IMPORTANT” (above).

State of Tennessee gets “B” while counties get “D” for government website transparency and public records

In Advocacy on April 16, 2012 at 7:13 pm

The Sunshine Review gives state government in Tennessee relatively high marks for government transparency on its Internet website, while giving local county governments in Tennessee some of its lowest grades. Sunshine Review said state government websites in Tennessee are easy to navigate, officials are listed with contact information, budgets are posted and information is available regarding numerous public records and government ethics. Overall the state was given a grade of “B.” Undoubtedly, the Tennessee Comptroller’s site that includes numerous public records including tax assessments and city and county audits, along with the premier Office of Open Records site contributed heavily to the high marks. By contrast, almost across the board, county government websites received the lowest marks with the average being a grade of “D.” In fact, 35 county governments do not even maintain a web presence according to the Sunshine Review. Only Wilson County is said to have adequately posted public records on its website. The complete Tennessee Sunshine Review can be linked to from the Tennessee Transparency Project website. Click TN Sunshine Report Card in the lower right column on the main page.