Monthly Archives: October 2012

Mayor’s subpoena of News Sentinel moot

So what ever happened to Mayor Tim Burchett’s subpoena of the News Sentinel’s visitor logs and video of its lobby and parking lot? The story was left dangling after the newspaper filed a motion to quash. The mayor wanted the records as evidence in his divorce case, and the newspaper argued that they were protected under Tennessee’s reporter’s shield law.
The subpoena was on hold after Chancellor Daryl Fansler recused himself from the case. The time at which I was supposed to deliver the information to Burchett’s attorney, Al Harb, passed, and Harb took no further steps to compel delivery.
Now that the Burchetts have settled their divorce case, our attorney, Rick Hollow, says the matter is moot. In the end, it was much ado about nothing.

Reaction to end of presidential endorsement

Not surprisingly, our decision no longer to endorse presidential candidates drew plenty of reaction.
Some readers praised the decision. “KNS is making a mature decision on the community’s behalf,” wrote one in response to my column announcing the new policy. “He’s right and for the right reasons.”
Some were critical. “Get a backbone. Grow some cajones. Who cares if you upset someone. At least stand for something.” Others doubted our motives. “bull phooey,” wrote one commenter, “you wanted to endorse obama , but didn’t have the balls to do it.”
Several questioned all endorsements. Wrote one: “I’m sorry, but newspapers should not endorse a candidate in any race, local or national. They are to report the news, not take sides in a story, except for columnists who are paid to offer their opinions. The practice of endorsing a candidate has long been outdated.”
Others recited the history of the News Sentinel’s endorsements, which was a point I didn’t cover in the column. The fact is, the News Sentinel has only twice made independent endorsements in presidential races: for McCain in 2008 and for Bush in 2004.
Before that, all of the newspapers in the E.W. Scripps group ran a single endorsement editorial. That position was reached through a formal, somewhat ritualized process. Every four years, the editors would meet and debate the endorsement. Then, voting in order of seniority, they would decide which candidate to endorse. The chief editorial writer of the Scripps Howard News Service would write the editorial, and all the papers would be bound to run it.
In 2004, the head of the newspaper division opened the process itself to debate, and the editors voted to discontinue it, allowing each newspaper to determine its own course. Personally, I hated to see the old system go. It had tradition and serious discourse behind it, and the resulting endorsement had some national heft. Subsequently, several Scripps papers have ended presidential endorsements, just as the News Sentinel has.
I continue to believe endorsements at the local level have real value. The editorial board takes them very seriously, interviewing candidates, debating their strengths and weaknesses, and evaluating the needs of their districts and offices based on the newspaper’s reporting and firsthand knowledge.
But when it comes to the office of president, we have no more information or insight than any other voter. So I’m happy now confining my opinion to the voting booth, where I still believe it very much matters.

Will law director ‘expedite’ records requests?

I don’t know what to make of the new county law director’s request that all “public records requests” be routed through his office. Bud Armstrong, who took office Sept. 1, issued the memo to all elected officials a week ago saying the new policy would “expedite the response to these requests.”
budarmstrongt300.jpgExactly what requests is he talking about? The Tennessee Public Records Act states: “All state county and municipal records … shall at all times, during business hours, be open for public inspection by any citizen of Tennessee, and those in charge of such records shall not refuse such right of inspection to any citizen, unless provided by state law.” This is the law that lets citizens go into the Register of Deeds office and look at property records, or go to the Sheriff’s Office and see accident reports, or go online and search the Trustee’s website for property tax records.
Is Armstrong suggesting that those offices stop providing access to those citizens until each request is vetted by his office? I doubt it. That would involve hundreds of “public records requests” each day.
Instead, I suspect Armstrong means he wants to see any major records requests from the news media, especially the News Sentinel, and I wonder if expediting is what he really has in mind.