Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

What is being hidden behind closed doors in Lenoir City?

In Advocacy on October 30, 2012 at 8:45 pm

The News-Herald in Lenoir City reported that city leaders spent a lot of time in executive session with no explanation to the public. Reporter Elizabeth Trexler wrote, “Lenoir City Mayor Tony Aikens would not disclose the reason for a 30-minute executive session, but opened the meeting stating it would need to happen.” It is difficult to know exactly what officials are up to behind closed doors, unless of course one of them breaks ranks and blows the whistle on discussions that are not protected by the Open Meetings Act. The public, the press and elected officials should always presume that government meetings are open. There must be legal authority to close a meeting and the burden of proof as to why a meeting of an elected or appointed body would be closed lies with the government. The Daily-Herald is right to raise the question. Citizens should keep their eyes open and ask their elected officials what they are doing behind closed doors. 


Nashville Metro School Board should consider charter school lawsuit in public — not behind closed doors

In Advocacy on October 27, 2012 at 1:27 pm

The fact that the Tennessee Open Meetings Act permits elected officials to go into private, closed-door, executive sessions to discuss certain items of business, does not mean they have to do it. Nashville’s Metro School Board has already held one closed door meeting with an attorney, reportedly to discuss the loss of $3.4 million in state funding after the rejection of the Great Hearts charter school application. As reported in The Tennessean, Oct. 4, 2012, the board has also mulled the issue in an open public meeting and individual board members have spoken with the press. The issue is divisive, the board appears to be spilt and the state’s Open Meetings Act does allow for discussing legal strategies in actual or pending litigation in closed meetings. However, the issues go way beyond courtroom strategy. The controversy is complex but includes the role of a local board of education, the powers of the state department of education, the will of the citizens and the impact on stakeholders in the Metro school system. The legal counsel hidden behind closed doors, may not be the best advice and may not be reflective of how citizens want their elected representatives to proceed. All of these preliminary discussions should be fully deliberated in open public meetings with public input encouraged.

Faulk, Harmon, Dunlap, Montgomery, Naifeh, Richardson squander thousands in taxpayer dollars, public records show

In Advocacy on October 25, 2012 at 2:21 am

Public records acquired by TNReport show that outgoing legislators Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, flushed more than $13,000 in taxpayer dollars on an elaborate trip to Chicago. The investigative report by TNReport’s Andrea Zelinski details the exact amounts spent by each of the lawmakers. Zelinski wrote, “Taxpayers are covering the costs for everything from airfare and mileage to staying in $227-a-night hotels and taking $40 taxi cab rides during the trip. The registration fees were as high as $615 per person for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in August. Some of the lawmakers, who had been defeated at the ballot box or announced their retirement, claimed five and six days’ per diem at $173 per day.” For the full report visit:

Presidential debate highlights importance of transparency

In Advocacy on October 23, 2012 at 1:58 am

Presidential debate highlights importance of transparency

President Barak Obama, in Monday evening’s final debate with Republican nominee Mitt Romney talked about the importance of governments in the Middle East developing greater transparency. Both Romney and Obama talked about the importance of promoting democracy throughout the world. Ironically, while both parties talk about democratic principles and the importance of government transparency abroad, every day in our own country and in counties and cities throughout Tennessee, commissioners, school board members and city aldermen violate the open meetings act and public records act. By deliberating the public’s business outside of meetings, via telephone conversations, e-mails or discussing the public’s business during informal meetings, local officials violate the very value-systems that as a nation we say are important in other parts of the world. The core values of an open and free society whether in rural east Tennessee or in Lybia, Iran or Iraq are the same. Openness in government is critical for freedom. Government of, by and for the people must be before the people.

TN Press highlights Office of Open Records

In Advocacy on October 16, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Tennessee Press Association Public Policy Director Frank Gibson has highlighted the work being done by the state’s Office of Open Records. Gibson profiles Open Records Counsel Elisha Hodge who sits at the helm of the office that has assisted more than 5,000 Tennesseans in pursuit of greater government transparency. Gibson writes, “Annual reports filed by the Office for 2008-11 showed 4,129 queries and complaints were received over that four-year period. Calls to the office averaged 1,240 annually for the last two years. The 2012 report will be due March 1. More than a majority of OORC calls comes from government, mostly local. Almost half came from citizens and fewer than 8 percent came from the news media.” The full article can be found at:

Hodge’s work has been an invaluable resource in open records and open meetings advocacy because of her clear understanding and even handed application of the state’s open meetings and open records legislation. A link to the Office of Open Records can be found in the right hand column on the main page.