Another Sunshine Law Flap! 

Why hide changes to Employee Procedures Handbook?
By Pat Hunter

"Secrecy and a free, Democratic government don't Mix" Pres. Harry Truman.

President Truman understood the importance of open government in a free society. Bob Woodward, Washington Post journalist and author along with Carl Bernstein, helped uncover the Watergate break-in scandal, which eventually led to President Nixon's resignation. Woodward recently spoke at UTs campus and he warned, "Of all the things that could bring down the United States, secrecy in government is the most to be feared."

Here we go again, county officials disregard Sunshine Law

The Tennessee Open Meetings "Sunshine" law requires that all meetings of public bodies be conducted in open when two or more members of a governing body meet so average citizens can witness what their government is saying and doing. Closed door meetings erode Democratic principles, open government and public trust.

Executive Session, Limited Exception for Attorney-Client Discussions. The Tennessee Supreme Court recognized a narrow exception to the Sunshine Law for meetings between a public body and its attorney concerning pending litigation. The exception applies only to discussions between the members of the public body and the attorney; once any discussion begins among members of the public body as to what action should be taken based on the advice of counsel, those discussions must be open to the public. The application of the exception in the was limited to cases in which there was present and pending litigation and the public body was named in the lawsuit. CTAS

Citizens should be very alarmed about the latest blatant closed door meeting by county officials.

The Nov.19th commission workshop agenda included item 2, Policy & Procedure Employee Handbook Doyle Arp.

Dana Zehner, election administrator, addressed commissioners about her concern about election employees and overtime pay when it falls on a holiday week, under the present policy. Commissioners did not discuss her concern or for that matter any issue about the Loudon County Personnel and Procedures Handbook in public.

Mayor Arp asked attorney Bob Bowman, how long it would take for the Executive Session and Bowman replied about "10 minutes." The closed door meeting lasted closer to 40 minutes.

Why did Loudon County Mayor Doyle Arp and nine county commissioners, leave the workshop meeting and go into Executive Session in another room to hear proposed changes to the Loudon County Personnel and Procedures Handbook? This is a public record, not confidential information. Commissioner Bob Franke was absent.

This matter was also reported in Nov. 22, 2007 News Herald, ... "After a brief discussion of rezoning requests..., commissioners went into an executive session with Attorney Bob Bowman. According to Commissioner Don Miller, the subject of the session was to discuss proposed changes in the county policy and procedure employee handbook."

Why keep secrets from the public and press about proposed changes to the Personnel and Procedures handbook?

How will these proposed policies affect employees, taxpayer services or taxpayer wallets?

On county commission's Dec 3rd agenda, Mayor Arp has listed this matter under his portion of the agenda, 7 A2 "Consideration of Recommendation of Policy & Procedures Handbook for Loudon County Government. How can commissioners even consider taking action or voting on proposed policy changes when this matter has not been fully discussed in an open meeting? What about the publics right to know or hearing from the rank and file county employees?

Please voice your concerns about the closed door meetings that violate the Sunshine Law. Request that Governor Bredesen and our state elected representatives not weaken the Sunshine Law.

 

Governor Phil Bredesen

Governor's Office
Tennessee State Capitol
Nashville, TN 37243-0001
Phone: 615.741.2001
Fax: 615.532.9711

Email: phil.bredesen@state.tn.us

 

Senator RANDY McNALLY
R - Oak Ridge, District 5 - Anderson, Loudon, Monroe and part of Knox counties.

Email address: sen.randy.mcnally@legislature.state.tn.us

Nashville Address: 307 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0205, Phone (615) 741-6806, Staff Contact: Anne Rasmussen, Rick Nicholson, and John Michael Burch, Research Analyst.

District Address, 94 Royal Troon Circle, Oak Ridge, TN 37830, Phone (865) 483-5544

JIMMY MATLOCK, State Representative
R Lenoir, District 21 - Parts of Loudon and Monroe counties  

Email address: rep.jimmy.matlock@legislature.state.tn.us

Nashville Address: 219 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0121, Phone (615) 741-3736, Staff Contact: Brenda Moore.

District Address: 190 Matlock Road, Lenoir City, TN 37771, Phone 986.4201

DENNIS FERGUSON, State Representative
D Midtown, District 32 - Roane and part of Loudon Counties

Email address: rep.dennis.ferguson@legislature.state.tn.us

Nashville Address: 17 Legislative Plaza, Nashville, TN 37243-0132, Phone (615) 741-7658, Fax (615) 253-0163, Staff Contact: Kim Coleman

District Address: 2851 Roane State Hwy, Harriman, TN 37748, Phone (865) 882-8163