From the January 2014 Newsletter of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government:
Citizens, journalists take stands for transparency
By Deborah Fisher, Executive Director
In my first few months as your new executive director, I am inspired by the citizens and journalists in all corners of Tennessee who are standing up for open government.
A woman in Hawkins County has been working through channels to encourage her school board to do a better job of letting the public know about their meetings. Others in Bradley County and Maury County have lobbied (so far unsuccessfully) for agendas to be posted in advance so the public knows what will be discussed. Yet another, in Shelby County, contacted me concerned that the charter school on whose board she sits is not following the state’s sunshine laws.
All these citizens are shining light, making noise and raising flags in the name of government transparency.
Journalists have continued to press, too, educating the public in the process. When a special private meeting was called to discuss a school superintendent controversy, the Wilson Post worked through the weekend to notify the public as well as make clear what could and could not be done by the board in the meeting with its lawyer.
The Knoxville News Sentinel won a round in court over requested emails, and on another front pressed the University of Tennessee Athletic Board to reopen its meetings to the public.
Elsewhere in the state, news reporters hit brick walls with government officials. In Columbia, police have started using encrypted communications that can no longer be picked up on scanners, shutting out both media and citizens. Another reporter is going back and forth with local government over releasing records in the database format in which they are maintained, instead of as PDFs.
As attention turns to the Legislature, I ask that you support with phone calls and emails to your lawmakers proposals that would increase transparency (there are some!) and make known your objections to laws that would do otherwise. Check out and share TCOG’s blog, which has continuous news about open government issues in Tennessee.
The spirit of open government is alive and well. Our coalition needs to continue to connect the dots and bring people together through education and research.