End may be in sight for emails lawsuit

When all is said and done, it might be interesting to know how many tax dollars the Knox County law director has spent trying to prevent the public release of nine lousy emails.

Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong

Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong

Monday, Blount County Circuit Court Judge David Duggan again ordered Law Director Bud Armstrong to turn the records over to the News Sentinel under Tennessee’s Public Records Act. The judge had issued a similar order in October, but Armstrong asked Duggan to amend his order, and the law director kept the emails secret in the meantime. Monday, the judge shot down that motion, commenting from the bench: “These are so clearly public documents.”

Still, Armstrong says he’s considering asking a higher court to intervene, though Duggan has refused to provide him with an easy avenue of appeal.

The case has dragged on for almost a year and a half. The News Sentinel made its initial request for county emails before Armstrong even took office in September 2012. Since assuming the job, the law director has tried every means possible to withhold the information from the public.

Most of the emails were sent in early 2012 and involve Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign disclosures. During the summer of 2012, the News Sentinel ran a series of stories revealing that some $20,000 had been siphoned from the mayor’s campaign account into his personal bank accounts. Burchett blamed his now-ex wife and said he had no knowledge of the problem until the newspaper brought it to his attention in June. We wanted to see if the emails sent between January and April backed that up.

More intriguing to me at this point is an email that John Turley sent to the mayor with attachments labeled “AndersonAve_FacadeGrantApplication.pdf” and similar names. Turley is the Turkey Creek developer who paid Dean Rice some $10,000-$12,000 at the time Rice was working as Burchett’s campaign manager. After Burchett was elected and Rice became his chief of staff, the county fast-tracked a road project near Turkey Creek that benefited Turley.

Why has the law director been arguing for more than a year that an email from a developer to the mayor involving a grant application is not public business? Maybe we’ll soon find out.