Legislative Battle Brewing Over Open Meetings Law

Writing in the subscription-only Tennessee Journal, Ed Cromer reminisces about the last effort to revise the state’s open meetings law – an attempt to strengthen it that failed – and reports on a developing move to soften its provisions.
It appears the battle will be renewed in 2012, as the board of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association has voted to support a bill that would allow commissioners and members of other public boards to discuss issues in private so long as a quorum isn’t present.
But it isn’t clear yet how big a push will be made. The Tennessee Municipal League isn’t involved, and so far counties are not unified on the issue. Championing the proposal is Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, who until last month was president of the county commissioners association. On Oct. 10, Williamson County commissioners voted 22-0 to adopt a resolution supporting the not-yet-drafted bill.
At least two other commissions, in Obion County and Lewis County, have adopted the resolution, Lewis by a 17-1 vote Monday night. And at least two have defeated it. In Rhea County, the vote last week was 7-2 against. One of the two members supporting it was Ronnie Raper, who succeeded Barnwell as TCCA president.
Tuesday, despite a positive recommendation from its legislative committee, the Anderson County Commission voted 12-4 against the resolution.
The Tennessee Press Association, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, and other groups will fight any attempt to weaken the open meetings law.
Commonly known as the sunshine law, the open meetings law requires that public notice be given of all meetings of public governing bodies — such as city councils and school boards — and that the meetings take place in public, with all votes cast publicly.
… State Rep. Glen Casada (R-Franklin), heeding his local commission’s 22-0 vote, is preparing a bill to provide that members of governing bodies may meet and talk in private without giving notice unless they constitute a quorum. However, he also plans to make it clear in the bill that parties to such non-public meetings may not make a decision or attempt to make one.

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