Gov. Bill Haslam challenged the characterization that the state suffered a defeat in a legal skirmish over whether or not it should release more information about children who died or were seriously harmed while under supervision by the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services.
“We did not lose this lawsuit, I want to be really clear,” Haslam said in an exchange with reporters on Thursday. “We’re fine with the results.”
Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy last month ordered the Department of Children’s Services to make certain internal agency records available to a coalition of media companies from across Tennessee. The companies, led by The Tennessean, filed suit in December seeking details on DCS child-death cases from 2009 to 2012. McCoy ruled that DCS had to provide more “non-confidential information” than it had previously released. She ordered the state to estimate the cost of redacting forms and reports DCS produced in more than 200 cases the media companies requested.
Earlier this week the administration responded that it would cost roughly $55,000 to pore over the files and blacken out individual-identifying information the state determines shouldn’t be released.
In a question-and-answer session with newspaper publishers gathered for a Tennessee Press Association conference in Nashville, Haslam also defended the cost-estimate of providing the DCS forms and files to the media companies. He said the judge will have final say as to the ultimate price charged. “We haven’t sent anyone a bill,” said Haslam.
“Remember how we got here,” the governor continued. “We honestly felt — not just DCS, but attorneys throughout state government — that there are six very specific state statutes that the General Assembly put in place that come with criminal penalties, and we felt like we could not give the information that was being requested.
“We weren’t being asked for limited information, we were being asked for everything, and our attorneys were saying we can’t do that. We made two different offers to sit down and talk, once to the law firm and once to one of the news organizations, and neither time were taken up on that.”
Haslam told reporters later that the resignation this week of former Department of Children’s Service’s Commissioner Kate O’Day “was totally unrelated” to the ruling in the lawsuit. O’Day was worried she’d “become a distraction,” the governor said — and he concluded that was “a fair assessment.”
Critics of the Haslam administration’s handling of DCS, in particular Democrats in the state Legislature, have been lambasting O’Day and DCS for weeks.