FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
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April 14, 2015 12:11 PM

Legislation allowing local governments to charge fees for access to public records was pulled from debate this session for summer study designed to prepare a comprehensive open records bill.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Bedford County Republican who sponsored the measure, took the bill off notice recently after holding several meetings with interested groups such as Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Tennessee Press Association.

"Open records are important to me, and I want to ensure that they are readily available," Tracy said in a statement. "There are bad actors on both sides of this issue, so I was glad to have all parties at the table trying to find language that would continue to allow records to be open and ensuring that they are available in a timely and proper manner." Continue>>>
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April 9, 2015 5:22 PM

Legislation allowing local governments to charge fees for access to public records was pulled from debate this session for summer study designed to prepare a comprehensive open records bill.

State Sen. Jim Tracy, a Bedford County Republican who sponsored the measure, took the bill off notice recently after holding several meetings with interested groups such as Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and Tennessee Press Association.

"Open records are important to me, and I want to ensure that they are readily available," Tracy said in a statement. "There are bad actors on both sides of this issue, so I was glad to have all parties at the table trying to find language that would continue to allow records to be open and ensuring that they are available in a timely and proper manner." Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:31 PM

House Bill 315 and its companion in the Senate is a top legislative priority for the Tennessee School Boards Association. Before pulling the bill, McDaniel kept the idea of new public records fees alive by saying the Office of Open Records Counsel has agreed to conduct public hearings in conjunction with the Advisory Committee on Open Government this summer on the proposal, and make a recommendation on the bill by January 2016.

Ann Butterworth is the open records counsel who would be in charge of making the final recommendation, according to McDaniel’s comments. Although McDaniel indicated discussions and hearings would include members of the Advisory Committee on Open Government. The advisory committee has 14 members and 3 ex-officio members, including the chairs of the Senate State and Local Government Committee and House State Government Committee.

The Tennessee Coalition on Open Government has a seat on the advisory committee, as do other civic groups such as the League of Women Voters and representatives from government such as the Tennessee School Boards Association and Tennessee Municipal League. Continue>>>
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April 2, 2015 12:13 PM

The Senate Health and Welfare Committee gave the green light to the once-dead Insure Tennessee proposal Wednesday.

High praise to those senators who made this significant victory happen. It showed leadership for the citizens of the state of Tennessee.

Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, pushed for the bill to be heard when the committee considered adjourning and finishing its long agenda another time. Continue>>>
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March 27, 2015 8:03 AM
Knoxville officials have begun offering training sessions for city board members after finding possible violations of the state’s sunshine laws.
 
The move stems from a public records request by the Knoxville News Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1ycCqPj) in relation to a proposed $9 million digital radio system being discussed by the Knox County E-911 Board of Directors. The newspaper reports the city gave it copies of emails that show some board members discussed the contract in private.
 
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero announced on Feb. 12 that she had ordered Law Director Charles Swanson to review city appointees serving on boards and develop a training program for them. Continue>>>
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March 12, 2015 12:32 PM

 A panel of experts assembled to offer advice on transparency issues is not subject to the state's open meetings law. At least that's the opinion of Ann Butterworth, who heads the Comptroller's Office of Open Records Counsel.

She made the finding in response to an email activist Ken Jakes requested for more information about a recent teleconference held by the 14-member Advisory Committee on Open Government.

"Is that not ironic that the very office that holds the responsibility of seeing that the citizens have access is involved in blocking access?" Jakes said. Continue>>>
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February 26, 2015 1:36 PM

A new guide to Tennessee’s open records and open meetings laws should have a lasting impact on good government across our state.

“Keys to Open Government” a 52-page book, was released earlier this month at the Tennessee Press Association’s winter convention. Perhaps no one was waiting breathlessly, but that doesn’t diminish the need for such a resource.

Written by yours truly and edited by my colleague Deborah Fisher at the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, “Keys” is a guide we hope will help journalists, citizens and elected and appointed officials navigate the laws designed and enacted to keep government actions open and above board. Continue>>>
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February 19, 2015 1:09 PM

Two First Amendment groups have requested permission to file briefs in support of a public records lawsuit brought by The Tennessean and other media organizations that goes before the state's Supreme Court in May seeking evidence in a rape case against four former Vanderbilt University football players.

The Tennessean, eight media organizations and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government filed suit against Metro Nashville last fall seeking access to records in the case that were not created by government entities but were in the hands of police. Those records include text messages between Vanderbilt football coaches and players.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled against the media coalition, but in January the state's highest court agreed to review the case. Continue>>>
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February 10, 2015 1:25 PM

Denial of public records, excessive fees to find out what the government is doing, violations of open meetings law and long delays in getting information are some of the problems open records advocates find in Tennessee.

News media routinely face hurdles in getting information to report to the public but ordinary citizens have it 10 times worse, said Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. She made the comment during the annual Associated Press-Tennessee Press Association legislative preview session.

Fisher told the story of a widow who was charged $1,000 just to see the case file involving her husband who had been shot to death by a sheriff's deputy. Continue>>>
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January 27, 2015 12:21 PM

Third Judicial District Chancellor Douglas T. Jenkins made a ruling Thursday regarding Tennessee's Open Meetings Act that could have far-reaching legal significance.

During a hearing in a Greene County Chancery Court lawsuit which seeks to stop the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County and US Nitrogen's plans to use the Nolichucky River for the company's water supply (see related article, page A-1), Jenkins ruled that deliberations at public meetings covered by the Open Meetings Act must be audible in order to comply with the law.

He had earlier granted a Motion For Leave to Intervene in the case from the advocacy group Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG) and its attorney, Richard L. Hollow, of Knoxville. Continue>>>
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December 5, 2014 12:03 PM

Open records activists have launched a Twitter campaign urging Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to lift a hold he placed on the FOIA Improvement Act.

The bipartisan companion bill was passed unanimously by the House in February and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved it in November.

One senator shouldn't obstruct progress on making the federal government more transparent to the American people. Continue>>>
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November 14, 2014 12:02 PM

An advocate for open records and open meetings in Tennessee said Tuesday that state and local agencies often broaden protections that don’t apply to them, and citizens and the media should keep them accountable.

Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, spoke to local media and East Tennessee State University journalism students on the issue of open records and open meetings laws as part of the agency’s educational program.

“A public record is open for inspection unless a state law says it is not,” Fisher said. Often, people who request open records — and are denied — do not follow through with the additional requirement that government agencies must cite the specific state law that exempts the record. Continue>>>
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