TSSAA must obey open-government laws

In a big win for transparency, an appeals court ruled Thursday that the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association must abide by the state’s open-government laws.

Appeals Court Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.

Appeals Court Judge Frank G. Clement Jr.

Appeals Court Judge Frank G. Clement Jr. agreed with a lower court ruling that the TSSAA, which runs high school sports in the state, is the “functional equivalent” of a government agency. That means it must follow the state Public Records Act and Open Meetings Law.

The ruling came in a lawsuit filed in 2012 after TSSAA refused to show The City Paper in Nashville records involving the tuition for athletes at Montgomery Bell Academy.

The “functional equivalency” standard comes into play when governments outsource some of their activities to other organizations. Tennessee courts have held that those organizations must also follow the open-government laws.

Clement found that the “historical relationship” between the TSSAA and the state Board of Education showed that the state had delegated its responsibility to regulate high school sports to the non-profit organization.

“A governmental agency cannot, intentionally or unintentionally, avoid its disclosure obligations under the Act by contractually delegating its responsibilities to a private entity,” Clement wrote in his decision quoting from a previous Tennessee Supreme Court ruling.

With the TSSAA dealing with many issues of public concern – such concussions, recruiting of athletes and marketing of sports events – this is really good news for advocates of openness.