Where the sun doesn’t shine

Tennessee’s Sunshine (open meetings) Law is said to be one of the toughest in the nation.  While I am strongly in favor of a high standard of open government, I’ve seen evidence that it may be frequently misunderstood by the public to incorporate far more than government legislative bodies.  This morning’s paper indicates that some who should know better are feeding that misconception.

Private tax policy meetings led by the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce probably should have been open to the public, a Knoxville media attorney and Nashville open-government advocate said last week.

The Sunshine Law is intended to cover governmental entities — City Councils, County Commissions, School Boards, etc. — with the ability to enact laws or policies affecting the public.  It does NOT cover private companies, volunteer organizations, private schools, chambers of commerce, etc., even if those groups are meeting for the purpose of discussing public policy. 

As long as they can’t make public policy, they can discuss it all they please.  In private.

In this case, members of the Chamber of Commerce met to discuss tax policy (probably tax abatements or tax increment financing).  But, they can’t enact such policy — only give an informed opinion to our City Council, who must then deliberate and decide upon such policy in a properly conducted public meeting.

Of course, I was not surprised at the opinions given the source: attorneys for the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Tennessee Press Association

Let’s look at it a little differently, just for the sake of perspective: if the Oak Ridger had an editorial board meeting to discuss the city’s tax policy, would it conduct the meeting in accordance with the provisions of the Sunshine Law (published advance notice, meeting open to the public)?  Would it welcome representatives of the News Sentinel and the Oak Ridge Observer to listen in and perhaps give their own opinions during the public comment period?

I don’t think so. 

Anyone who is interested in tax policy will certainly have the opportunity to not only hear the Chamber’s recommendation (if they give one, which I would expect), but to comment publicly and listen to every word of deliberation amongst those who will actually decide these matters.

3 thoughts on “Where the sun doesn’t shine

  1. Good points. This was not unlike the Morning Coffee meeting at whatever place old men gather to gripe about government and tax policy. They can talk about it all they want, can’t formulate policy but by voting.

  2. Pingback: Volunteer Voters » Ray Of Light

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