This newspaper brings you a feature each Monday we call “Your Government At Work.” It’s a listing of the public meetings slated for that week. They include gatherings of local school boards, city councils and county commissions.
We do this because we believe citizens have a right to see for themselves what their elected officials are up to. That’s why we encourage residents to attend these meetings whenever they can.
Unfortunately, if proponents of a proposed change to the Sunshine Law are successful, the public will no longer be privy to all the discussions that are held by their elected officials to reach decisions on important issues. A bill has been filed in the Tennessee General Assembly to allow elected officials to gather — without any public notice — as long as they don’t have a quorum.
This legislation is not new. It’s a retread of an effort that was squashed last year by legislative leaders. Even so, the same bill has resurfaced with the same onerous intent — to weaken the Sunshine Law.
Proponents of the legislation say the state’s open meetings act is too confusing. On the contrary, the 37-year-old law plainly states: “The General Assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.”
The Sunshine Law forbids local government members from meeting privately to discuss the public’s business. It does not, however, ban officials from speaking to each other during chance encounters or from having conversations with constituents.
The law has been a simple and direct tool for open government in Tennessee. It should never be changed to allow governmental officials to threaten that transparency.
But that’s exactly what HB274 would do, and that’s why it is opposed by this and other newspapers across the state, as well as the Tennessee Press Association and the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. The bill is scheduled for its first hearing Tuesday in a subcommittee of the House State Government Committee.
We urge all Tennesseans who believe in open government to email the chairman of this subcommittee, Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him that any effort to water down the Sunshine Law is just plain wrong.