Viewpoint: Open Meetings, Dr. Larry Burris

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Open Meetings

06/29/2020

Tennessee is said to have one of the nation’s most expansive open meeting and open records laws, meaning citizens have access to a plethora of government information and activities.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean citizens have the right to participate in all of the processes of government, but it does mean we have the right to be actively informed about what the government is doing.

 


Those issues came to the fore last week when a Chancellor Ellen Lyle ruled a meeting between the Metro Sports Authority and a construction company to discuss plans to build a Major League Soccer stadium at the Nashville Fairgrounds is invalid because it violated the Tennessee Open Meeting law.
According to the chancellor, there was not adequate public notice about a meeting that dealt with a significant public issue. The ruling also states that because of the inadequate notice, the only people present at the meeting were the “strategic partners” and one other citizen.
In addition, the Chancellor noted an electronic version of the meeting notice did not adequately explain what the meeting was about, despite the fact the meeting was described as “special.” She further noted the description of the meeting sent to interested parties was “somewhat cryptic.”
The court order also says the fact that only one member of the public attended a meeting dealing with a significant Nashville landmark was evidence the notice was inadequate.
It is also important to recognize that although the parties demonstrated there was no intent to hide the meeting, previous case laws shows intent is not a factor in whether or not the law was violated.
Under the open meeting law, the chancellor could have voided the contract, and forced Metro to completely re-do the entire bid process. Instead, she ruled the meeting will have to take place again, and another vote taken.
A new soccer stadium in Nashville may not be the most important public issue today, but the law still provides the public has a right to know what its government is doing.
I’m Larry Burriss

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)