Kingsport Times News keeping an eye on Sunshine violations in Sullivan County

In Advocacy on June 8, 2012 at 3:40 pm

The Kingsport Times News in Sullivan County is keeping its eye on elected officials who have skirted or perhaps just plain violated the state’s Open Meetings Act. KTN’s John Osborne reported this week, “A group of Sullivan County commissioners who violated state law last month by throwing the public out of a public meeting has revisited the issue to make sure their actions can’t be challenged. Earlier this week, County Attorney Dan Street led members of the Sullivan County Commission’s Executive Committee through the steps he said were needed to make sure the committee’s violation of Tennessee’s “Sunshine Law” would not jeopardize the legal settlement the group discussed behind closed doors last month. Street was not included in that closed meeting. The Executive Committee’s regular monthly meeting was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. May 1. But at that time, committee members said the group needed first to go into “executive session” and asked all non-members to leave the room. They went on to meet with the county’s risk management officer and an insurance claims adjuster — then let the public back in before quickly voting simply to approve the settlement as discussed in private. No details, such as what claim or how much money was involved, were made public. When members gathered Tuesday for the committee’s June meeting, Street told them they needed a do-over because last month’s vote could be challenged on the basis it violated the Sunshine Law. Some members argued it did not. Street told them any local governmental body may only exclude the public to discuss legal strategy with the body’s attorney — and that once that discussion ended, any subsequent action had to be taken in public, and include at least some basic details describing the action. Street also explained that the exclusion isn’t spelled out in state law, per se, but is recognized only because of a Tennessee Supreme Court decision that aimed to preserve attorney-client privilege. Without an attorney present during last month’s closed-door “executive session,” Street said, the committee clearly violated the Sunshine Law,” (Kingsport Times News, June 6, 2012).

Local governments would benefit from advisors like Street who seek compliance with the state’s Open Meetings Act, rather than lawyers who seem more bent on guiding them in how to get around the Act.

  1. […] "private" meetings do not promote transparency in Government, or trust in our leaders.  In fact, the Sunshine Act has been an issue in Sullivan County for some time. We will keep you informed as this situation […]

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