Dr. Larry Burriss Viewpoint: Tennessee Open Meetings

Tenn. Code Ann. § The formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret. Construed broadly in favor of the public. Provides the right to attend, not the right to participate. Applies to all meetings of any governing body. Utility customer that wanted to participate example.

TN Open Meetings

It seems so long ago, but there was a time, actually not so long ago, when public records were all on paper, and government meetings took place in conference rooms or specifically designated meeting places.
Then, when electronic records were being developed, many government officials tried to claim various Freedom of Information laws didn’t apply. They said open records only meant paper copies.
Well, that notion has generally been swept aside, and the term “all records” means all documents, whether paper or electronic.
For some government officials, the same kind of thinking applied to meetings. They thought electronic meetings were not really meetings, and were thus not covered by open meeting laws.
Obviously these days it is imperative for the government to continue doing its job, if for no other reason than to provide a sense of stability. However, part of the government’s job is to help the public know what it is doing.
Well, to his credit, Tennessee governor Bill Lee issued an executive order last week allowing government bodies to meet on-line, and be accessible to anyone who wants to listen or watch.
For those who are sticklers for Roberts Rules of Order, the new rules allow a meting to be conducted even if a necessary quorum cannot be physically present at the same location.
Other provisions require that if the body cannot provide real-time access, they must create a suitable audio or video record with in two days.
We all how arcane web addresses can be, and how one little mistake make a site inaccessible. The governor’s order addresses that issue as well, by specifying the government body must provide clear instructions for how to access either the meeting itself, or the audio/video record.
I should also note that I am not a big fan of executive orders, which are often used to circumvent legislative constitutional responsibilities. But in this case Governor Lee has acted because the state legislature has failed to implement rules necessary to insure public access during the current medical crisis.
I’m Larry Burriss.