Nov 28 2007
08:06 am

Tom Humphrey files this report on the recommendations by the committee studying changes to the state's open meetings act.

After all the study and debate, it appears all they can agree on is to change the law from not allowing deliberation among two or more officials to not allowing three (or a majority, whichever is less) or more to deliberate. By not allowing two or more, the current law effectively allows no deliberation. The new law, if as described, would now allow two to deliberate. It is not clear how this is a change for the better.

It should also be noted that the article contains a factual error. The article states "Current law says that a meeting of two or more officials can be a violation." Actually, the law says that deliberation between two or more officials is a violation, not a meeting, and even provides for exceptions such as chance meetings or visits to a project site.

According to the article, there were also arguments to allow deliberation by phone or e-mail, as these would not be a "meeting."

It's pretty sad that elected officials have so much trouble understanding that they can't deliberate in secret and that the public's business must be conducted in public.

Mark Siegel's picture

I agree

The three or more proposal weakens the law.

I also don't know what is happening to a series of proposed exceptions to the law, some of which would open the door to the worst kind of back-room deal-cutting.

The committee report, for instance, had proposed exempting land purchases or leases by public units from the Open Meetings Law.

It's not hard to think of ways that private deals could be made on leases or land sales which might not be in the public interest.

Mark N. Foster's picture

Wouldn't Email Be Public Record

Would Intra-Commission Email constitute a public record?

Russ's picture

It's especially

It's especially disheartening to see that Richard Hollow, the attorney who represented the News Sentinel in the sunshine suit and who is one of the subcommittee members, endorsed this weakening of the law.

He argued in court (and Chancellor Fansler agreed in his ruling) that a secret deliberation between even two Commissioners thwarts the public business. In his ruling, Fansler discussed two (hypothetical) Commissioners who head two (hypothetical) factions meeting in secret, and by virtue of their leadership roles thereby achieve a majority when the full Commission votes.

For some reason, even Hollow has changed his mind.

About two weeks ago, I emailed my state senator (Woodson) and representative (Strader), asking for their positions on this proposed weakening of the law (back when they were considering a four-person cutoff). I haven't heard a word from either one of them.


Johnny Ringo's picture

For some reason, even Hollow

For some reason, even Hollow has changed his mind.

"Politics is the art of the possible." ~ Otto von Bismark, 1867

Perhaps this was the best deal he could negotiate.

Rachel's picture

It's sad that the entire

It's sad that the entire focus seems to be on making things easier for elected officials. Their job isn't to take the easy way; it's to do the people's business, which should be done in public to the absoluted degree possible.

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones." - John Maynard Keynes

Pam Strickland's picture

Well said Pam Strickland "We

Well said

Pam Strickland

"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." ~Kurt Vonnegut

Lisa Starbuck's picture

It's Not Over

Just because the committee has recommended these changes, it doesn't mean that it is law. It still has to be voted on in the House and the Senate. Contact your legislators and let them know you want them to oppose changes to weaken the law.

Rachel's picture

Geez, the changes had better

Geez, the changes had better not pass. If they do, Scoobie et al., who can't seem to master the current law, will have to learn the new one. Their heads just might explode.

"The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones." - John Maynard Keynes

jbr's picture

I don't get Hammond's

I don't get Hammond's statement about clarification. A preponderance of 'exceptions' are one reason people have to hire an attorney in order to understand things. 'Exceptions' typically exponentially complicate a subject.

jbr's picture

Bredesen against watering down Sunshine Law

"...government just works better..."


Tom Guleff's picture

Open Meetings

It appears the panel was waterboarding the Open Meetings law into submission. With the current contorted recommendations, the law will be too weak to stand for much of anything.


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