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November 09, 2007

Open Meetings score: Littlefield 1, Ramsey 0

Want to know how our local elected officials feel about the state's Open Meetings Law? Thankfully, TFP reporter Matt Wilson has a story in today's paper on just that topic. I have to give Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield a point for his stance:

"We need to leave the Tennessee law alone," Mr. Littlefield said in a statement. "While somewhat cumbersome at times, we have learned to work within the framework that exists. Allowing discussions and deliberations outside of announced public meetings will create more questions of public trust than it will answer."

Great answer, Mr. Mayor. Super, in fact. However, his counterpart, Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, did not score so well:

Mr. Ramsey said he believed members of legislative bodies often meet by accident, and he explained instances in which he said the law has been an obstruction.

"It'd make it easier to do business," he said of the possible changes.

Meeting "by accident" is not what the law is about. It's about deliberating public matters without public oversight. I am of the opinion that most infractions that have occurred over the past three decades or so have not been critically damaging in nature (Knox County '07 being a notable exception). However, the appearance of the thing is what is harmful. Public trust is perhaps the most important asset a government holds. When conversations that affect policy decisions are held in secret, even if technically harmless, that trust is indelibly scarred, thus rendering said asset as worth far less.

As far as the example cited by Mayor Ramsey goes: why couldn't his staff simply have invited all 9 commissioners, and the public, to a single meeting about changes to the insurance plan? If there are valid reasons, I would like to know them.

Additional area leaders' stances are also captured in the article. Not that we need proof that this is not a partisan matter, but South Pittsburg Mayor Mike Killian, a Democrat, feels similarly to Claude Ramsey, who is a Republican. I don't think anyone is trying to hog-tie local governments by keeping this rule. I think there are ways to get business done and have the public be aware of how it got done. That's all we're asking for.

UPDATE: Ben Cunningham weighs in.

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Government | By joe lance | 01:07 PM


Ron Littlefield deserves credit for his stance on this issue.

I understand the problems created by the current law and why some lawmakers want to change it. Even if we assume that current leadership is 100% acting in the best interest of the people, there are no assurances that future leadership will do the same. This law is such a terrible idea, I don't even know where to begin. In the wake of Tennessee Waltz, you would think leadership in Nashville would be moving towards more open government, not the other way around.

If government cannot act within the confines of fair and just laws that protect the citizenry, then our current leadership has lost ALL purpose. They need to be replaced immediately.

When this ridiculous plan becomes law, it will be abused time and time again. Tennessee loses. Period.

Posted by: davidm. at November 9, 2007 02:44 PM