NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has signed a bill to require public notices to be published on newspaper websites.
The measure maintains a requirement for public notices to be published in the print editions of newspapers. It would also create a statewide online clearinghouse for all notices.
Sponsors say the Tennessee Press Association called for the changes in the interest of enhanced transparency.
“The public notice law is a positive step forward for government transparency,” said Kent Flanagan, director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “It actually ensures that public notices will be posted on third party independent websites.”
The measure was sponsored by Republican Sen. Ken Yager of Harriman and Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville.
The House approved the legislation 94-1, and it passed the Senate 31-1.
The House gave final approval Monday night to a bill requiring newspapers that publish public notices to post them on their website as well at no extra charge.
The bill cleared the House on a 94-1 vote and now goes to the governor for his expected signature.
In brief debate, Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, told sponsor Rep. Ryan Haynes, R-Knoxville, that it seemed inappropriate to “be telling the newspaper what they can and can’t charge for.”
Haynes said the bill is supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
“They are committed to open government and this is one more service they can provide to make government more open and more transparent,” Haynes said. “To give more people the opportunity to see public notices, they’re willing to take that cost on.”
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The editor of The Commercial Appeal is retiring after 11 years in the paper’s top position.
Chris Peck notified the staff Thursday afternoon.
Scripps newspapers Vice President of Content, Mizell Stewart told The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/XMfhVc) managing editor Louis Graham will serve as interim editor. He said a national search for Peck’s replacement — both in and out of Scripps — will take place immediately aiming to hire a replacement within 90 days. Scripps is the parent company of the publication.
The paper hired Peck, 62, in 2002 to replace the retiring Angus McEachran.
Peck is a past president of the Associated Press Managing Editors and the current secretary of the American Society of News Editors.
Stewart said Peck would continue to contribute to the paper’s editorial pages
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The State Senate approved legislation today requiring newspapers that print public notices to post them on the Internet. Senate Bill 461, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), is supported by the Tennessee Press Association.
Action on the bill was taken during “Sunshine Week,” an annual time to highlight the importance of maintaining open government nationwide. Yager said the legislation recognizes the growing use of the Internet as a source of information, while preserving the integrity of using an independent agency for public notice by newspapers of general circulation.
Current law requires public notices be given on a variety of matters of importance to the public, including government meetings, bid announcements, notice of parental termination, foreclosure notices, public sale of private property, back tax notices, estate notices and zoning changes, to name a few. Local governments, looking for ways to reduce expenditures have suggested they can save money by posting notices on their websites rather than posting them in a local newspaper.
“My experience in local government gives me a greater appreciation of the importance of this issue,” said Yager, who served as Roane County Executive for 24 years before being elected to the State Senate. “Using an independent agency, the local newspaper, builds integrity in the process. To give even the appearance of manipulating mandatory public notices, tarnishes the reputation of government because it undermines the concept of independence and transparency.”
In addition, the legislation calls for the newspapers to post public notices on a central statewide website. Every newspaper that publishes public notices must post on their website homepage a link to the public notice section and another link to the Tennessee Press Association’s statewide repository website.
“This bill combines the best of both worlds. It keeps public notices in places where more people can find them by ensuring the widest distribution,” said Senator Yager. “This measure comes with no extra costs to taxpayers, and promotes government transparency, efficiency and public trust. I am pleased that it has been approved by the full Senate and honored for its passage during a week that embraces openness in government.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is defending the $55,884 bill to media for copies of records from the Department of Children’s Services, reports Chas Sisk. (Haslam said he) was not aware of the tab for records, which was tallied after a judge ruled that the records had to be made public, until it was printed in the newspaper.
But Haslam said the sum was not meant to discourage news organizations from obtaining the records. He said line items — such as $500 for whiteout, nearly 1,800 labor hours to review the records and more than 14,000 miles to transport records around the state — did not seem extraordinary given that the records are scattered in various DCS offices.
“I’ll be glad to pay the $500 if Gannett is struggling,” Haslam quipped, referring to the parent company of The Tennessean, which led the public records lawsuit.
“We did what the judge asked us to do. The judge said tell them what it would cost. We did exactly what the judge said.”
Meanwhile, Jack McElroy gives some perspective on the bill. Among the expenses is the cost of hand-delivering each file from local offices to regional offices then to state headquarters at the rate of $0.47 per mile, so the files can be copied in Nashville. The original files then will be hand-delivered back to the offices where they originated. The total mileage is estimated at 7,102 miles, and, of course, employees will have to accompany the files earning $16.39 an hour on those long drives.
In Nashville, the relevant portions of the files will be extracted and photocopied, then those portions will be redacted using white-out tape. which “unfortunately, can be easily removed,” so the files will have to be copied again. The redaction will take 600 rolls of white-out tape, by the way, at the cost of $0.86/roll.
In all, the state estimates it will take 1,798.5 hours of state labor to provide the public with copies of the 200 summary files, about nine hours per file. The total “good faith” estimate of the cost to the media of the project is $55,884.55.
I guess if more children die, the cost will go up.
The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services refused to provide The Tennessean with complete records regarding child deaths on Tuesday, the newspaper reports. The newspaper repeatedly has asked for an accounting of how 31 children, who had been reported to the state’s child protection agency, died in the first six months of this year.
In the past three months, the newspaper has made multiple requests for records that would show what the $650 million child welfare agency did — or did not do — to protect those children. On Nov. 28, the newspaper’s attorney again asked for the records.
On Monday, the state’s largest newspapers and television stations were among media outlets to join The Tennessean’s formal request.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Knoxville News Sentinel and The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal all joined The Tennessean in asking DCS to open its records on child fatalities. Four of the state’s television stations have also joined the request, including WSMV-TV Channel 4 and WKRN-TV Channel 2 in Nashville, WREG-TV Channel 3 in Memphis and WBIR-TV Channel 10 in Knoxville. The Associated Press and the Tennessee Press Association also have joined the request to make the records public.
The Tennessean and other media outlets asked that the agency provide, by Tuesday, records for the 31 children who died this year, as well as all the child fatalities or near fatalities for children brought to the department’s attention since 2009.
In a letter sent to Tennessean attorney Robb Harvey on Tuesday evening, Deputy Attorney General Janet Kleinfelter declined the request.
“A full consideration of the legal arguments and authorities, including those discussed in your letter of November 28, supports the Department’s determination that it has produced all the documents that it can consistent with the provisions of state and federal law,” she wrote.
The Shelby County Commission has filed a subpoena in federal court asking for the identities of all online commenters in The Commercial Appeal’s stories about suburban plans to create their own school districts.
More from Sunday’s CA: Editor Chris Peck called the request a “fishing expedition” and an unwarranted invasion of readers’ privacy, and the newspaper’s attorney, Lucian Pera, said he will resist on grounds the subpoena infringes on the work of the newspaper and the rights of readers.
County Commission attorney Imad Abdullah said in the subpoena the county wants first and last names, postal addresses and telephone numbers of all account users who posted comments, including comments the newspaper’s digital media staff removed because they were racially charged or otherwise inappropriate.
Abdullah did not specify a reason for the request nor how the information would be used, and he did not return calls or e-mails asking about the county’s motives. But Lori Patterson, a spokeswoman for his law firm, sent an e-mail saying, “At this point, we would prefer not to comment on the purpose of the subpoena.”
The subpoena the attorneys filed this week specifies 45 newspaper stories dating from Nov. 19, 2010, to July 12, 2012. The earliest story was about the Memphis school board’s initial consideration of surrendering its charter, a move that ultimately led to the merger of city and county schools. The latest story was about U.S. Dist. Judge Samuel ‘Hardy’ Mays’ ruling allowing municipalities to hold referendums on whether to set up independent school districts with the caveat that the constitutionality of the referendums will have to be decided later.
On June 26, the County Commission attorneys filed a federal court motion to block the Aug. 2 referendums to start school districts in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington. They argued that the people who arranged the referendums are trying to discriminate against African-Americans by carving out majority white suburban districts from the new unified school district.
An attorney representing Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett in his divorce has subpoenaed the News Sentinel to produce building visitor logs and video surveillance recordings.
From Mike Donila’s story: The subpoena, delivered to editor Jack McElroy on Friday afternoon, asks for sign-in sheets for all News Sentinel visitors between May 15 and June 24. It also asks for all videotapes “or other video recorded medium containing surveillance of the front entrance, visitor parking area, and other parking areas adjacent to the visitor parking, and/or lobby” during the same time frame.
On Monday, the newspaper filed a motion to quash the subpoena.
Burchett referred questions Monday to his divorce lawyer, Albert J. Harb. Harb, who once served as the delinquent tax attorney for the Knox County Trustee’s Office, did not return a call seeking comment.
The subpoena asks McElroy or the “custodian of records” to bring the requested items to Harb’s office by July 11.
It does not say why Burchett or Harb want them.
The mayor and his wife have been the subject of several recent stories about misstatements in a number of Burchett’s 2010 campaign finance disclosure forms. Banking information from the “Elect Burchett” account was provided to the paper on the condition of anonymity.
McElroy and others said they suspect the subpoena is an effort to flush out the source.
“This is a heavy-handed attempt by the mayor to identify the source of a story he didn’t like,” McElroy said. “Newspapers don’t give up anonymous sources, and we certainly will fight this subpoena to the full extent of the law.”
Richard Hollow, the paper’s attorney, filed the motion to kill the subpoena Monday afternoon. Hollow said it was nothing more than an attempt to circumvent the state shield law, which is designed to protect reporters from revealing confidential information or sources.
“It’s pretty clear that they think someone walked into the News Sentinel and gave us a story, so they’re looking for a photograph or a name on the sign-in sheet that would indicate the person they think was the source,” he said. “That’s the only reason to do it other than to harass or intimidate us. They know who they’re looking for.”
Hollow said Harb is “astute enough” not to directly ask the paper to reveal its source for the stories, since the shield law would protect the paper. Instead, he said, the attorney is making an “indirect inquiry” in a way in which no case law exists in Tennessee.
“This particular mechanism has never been used before to avoid the shield law,” Hollow said. “But if the courts follow the spirit and intent of the law, then we should win.”
The paper’s attorney also said he was concerned that the “breadth of the inquiry disregards the interest of the other people” who have visited the News Sentinel.
“People who signed in or were recorded would then have their likeness and name as part of the record of the chancery court proceedings, and when you walk into the News Sentinel you don’t have the expectation that you’ll become a part of the public record,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Mae Beavers was investing $50,000 in a Macon County newspaper, not making a loan of that amount to the publisher, according to a response filed in a lawsuit Beavers has brought for collection of the money.
From Andy Sher’s report: “Co-plaintiff Mae Beavers delivered said cashier’s check to Defendant (Kathryn) Belle for the specific purpose of investing in the venture and to make payment of the May 21, 2010 installment [payment] due to Main Street Media for purchase of the Macon County Chronicle,” the filing says.
It also alleges that Lou Ann Zelnick, a Republican who made a failed 2010 GOP 5th Congressional District primary bid, “invested” $36,000 in the newspaper venture as well.
…. (Beavers, in an interview) called the lawsuit a “personal matter.”
Asked about suggestions the money was not a loan but an investment, Beavers said, “I don’t believe that’s what the lawsuit said.”
Beavers said “yes” when asked if the $50,000 was intended as a loan.
Meanwhile, Beavers on Monday filed an amended Statement of Interests form with the Tennessee Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance. Her original State of Interests form, filed Jan. 30, did not mention the loan or the 6 percent her lawsuit cites as interest under the category “sources of income.”
Her new filing lists “Kathryne Bell — pass through interest on personal loan — no actual income.”
It also lists Bell’s nephew, John Cook, with the explanation “pass through interest on personal loan — no actual income.”
(Previous post HERE)
A state senator and her husband have filed a complaint in Wilson County Chancery Court against a newspaper publisher, according to the Macon County Times. The complaint was filed by Sen. Mae Beavers and her husband Jerry Beavers on Dec. 29, 2011 and names Macon County Chronicle Publisher Kathryne Belle as the defendant. The complaint alleges that Belle borrowed $50,000 from Beavers at a rate of six percent interest on or about May 26, 2010.
Further alleged in the complaint is that Belle used the funds to purchase an interest in the Macon County Chronicle. Belle has allegedly made numerous payments on the loan but not all required payments and has failed to make payments that were requested of principle and/or interest, according to the complaint.
The complaint further alleges that Belle has refused to sign a written promissory note or to pledge adequate collateral for the loan.
Allegedly, Belle owes the Beavers a principle balance of $50,000 plus interest at the rate of six percent and failed to make the interest payment that was due on Nov. 15.
According to the complaint, Beavers and her husband seek compensatory damages in the amount of $50,000 plus pre- and post-judgment interest.
…When contacted by phone, Sen. Beavers declined to comment.
Lebanon attorney Keith Williams confirms that he has been retained to represent Belle.
“We will be filing an answer as soon as possible. Once we have filed an answer, we will state all of our defenses to this lawsuit filed by Sen. Beavers,” said Williams.
(HT: Sean Braisted, who, in turn, cites a Facebook post by former Rep. Susan Lynn, HERE.)