Newspaper Goes to Court for Emails from Political Figures

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Knoxville News Sentinel is asking a judge to decide whether the county must hand over emails it requested under the state’s open records law.
The records relate to Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett’s campaign finance disclosure problems that he has blamed on his ex-wife.
The Knox County Law Department earlier this month refused to release some of the emails, claiming that they were personal and not subject to the open records law.
In a petition filed Thursday in Knox County Chancery Court, New Sentinel Managing Editor Tom Chester asks a judge to review 13 of the emails to determine whether the county can legally withhold them.
The News Sentinel reports ( two of the emails are from state Sen. Becky Duncan Massey to the mayor’s chief of staff. Three are from former county Finance Director Burton Webb’s county email account to his personal email account.
One is from county Communications Manager Michael Grider to himself. One is from developer John Turley to the mayor. There also is one sent from a private account to Commissioner Jeff Ownby that appears to be about Commissioner Amy Broyles.

“The subjects of these emails, the titles of attachments, the timing and the parties involved seem to indicate that public business is involved,” News Sentinel Editor Jack McElroy said. “We think it is important that a neutral party outside of county government determine if these are, or are not, strictly personal communications.”
The emails are part of a larger public records request filed by the News Sentinel in August. In answering that request, the county produced an electronic list of several thousand emails. The newspaper reviewed it and requested copies of 73.
On Tuesday, Burchett’s attorney appeared before the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for a hearing on Burchett’s filing errors. The panel voted not to penalize Burchett.
The complaint with the Registry was based on reports by the News Sentinel about questionable spending, including payments of more than $15,000 to Burchett’s then-wife Allison Burchett. She has told the newspaper she acted at the mayor’s direction.

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