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Closed-door meetings are a very bad idea

December 5th, 2011 8:31 am by Staff Report

“What are they up to?”
More Tennesseans will likely be asking that question of their local government officials if leaders of the Tennessee County Commissioners Association have their way. The TCCA wants to weaken Tennessee’s Sunshine Law to allow elected officials to meet in secret.
It’s a bad idea, and one that should infuriate every citizen of this state who cares about open government. The public’s business needs to be conducted in public. Closing doors only leads to suspicion.
“What are they really doing behind closed doors?”
Tennesseans would not be able to answer that question if Williamson County Commissioner Bob Barnwell, the former president of the TCCA, has his way. Barnwell is pushing a proposal to allow elected officials to meet without a quorum to discuss the public’s business. Citizens would not be apprised of when or where these non-quorum sessions are being held.
That’s just wrong. It also runs counter to public sentiment. Citizens are demanding more, not less, transparency from their government these days
“Can we trust our elected leaders to have our best interests in mind at these closed-door meetings?”
Don’t count on it. One of the reasons Tennessee lawmakers passed the Sunshine Law in 1974 was to rid government of the cronyism and feather-bedding that go with conducting government in secret. Elected officials want us to take their word that they will do the right thing behind closed doors. Well pardon us, but we would rather be there and judge for ourselves.
To their credit, Washington County commissioners are against watering down the Sunshine Law. Commissioners here have called it a bad idea, and we applaud their principled and clear-headed stand on this issue.
We wish we could say the same of county commissioners in other counties of our area. Last week, Sullivan County commissioners approved a resolution asking the General Assembly to weaken the Sunshine Law. In Unicoi County, commissioners there have asked the county attorney to prepare a resolution so that they, too, can express support for this despicable idea.
Unicoi County commissioners are scheduled to vote on this resolution at a special meeting on Dec. 19 at 4:30 p.m. We urge all citizens of Unicoi County who believe the best government is the government that conducts its business in the open show up at this meeting and send this clear message to their commissioners:
“We have a right to know what you are up to.”

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