Unicoi board passes resolution in support of open records exemption

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Mar 19, 2018 at 10:10 PM

UNICOI — The Unicoi Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday spent a large portion of its monthly meeting discussing open government, before and after its narrow passage of a resolution supporting an exemption to Tennessee’s Public Records Act.

At issue was a state bill filed in January at the request of Mayor Johnny Lynch that would exempt all records of the town’s new Mountain Harvest Kitchen from the act in order to protect clients using the town’s new food business incubator.

An amendment to the bill drafted with assistance from the Tennessee Coalition on Open Government to limit the bill to only proprietary business information shared with the kitchen comes up before a state Senate committee today.

Unicoi’s resolution supporting the bill was passed by a 3-1-1 vote with Lynch and Aldermen Doug Hopson and Jeff Linville in favor, Alderman Kathy Bullen opposed and Alderman Roger Cooper, who unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to the resolution suggested by the coalition, abstaining.

Bullen questioned whether the resolution supported the original bill closing all the kitchen’s records or the amended bill limiting the exemption to the proprietary information of the kitchen’s clients.

Town Attorney Lois Shults Davis responded that the resolution included the proposed amendment.

Cooper asked for stipulations to be added to the resolution to clarify the legislation will close only the clients’ proprietary information.

“I totally agree proprietary should be private, recipes, customers etc. ... not the clients’ names, addresses, contact information and what they pay to the kitchen. The coalition suggests we add this to our resolution to clarify.”

Davis told Cooper the resolution included the words “client proprietary” and the amendment suggested by the coalition did not add clarity.

Cooper’s motion to amend the resolution was seconded by Bullen but failed with Lynch, Hopson and Linville opposed.

The vote passing the orignal resolution was followed by a discussion of the Open Records Law placed on the board’s agenda by Cooper.

Cooper shared with the other board members an editorial from a Knoxville newspaper on last week’s observation of Sunshine Week in Tennessee and a move underway in the state legislature to review the more than 500 existing exemptions to the state’s Public Records Law.

Cooper said the editorial called for such exemptions to be “rare, limited in scope and carefully considered,” and concluded by saying government must have open records to provide people with access to how public money is spent.

Referring to local news coverage of Unicoi’s request for the public records exemptions, Cooper said, “The town had its name on the front page of two local newspapers last week. It’s an embarrassment.”

In other business on Monday, the board unanimously approved a resolution authorizing Lynch to apply for $496,000 in grant funding to build an amphitheater on property recently purchased by the town adjacent to Mountain Harvest Kitchen and the Unicoi Tourist Information and Visitors Center.

Town Recorder Michael Borders said a 50 percent town match required by the grant would be met by the value of the property. Borders said the estimated cost of the project is about $250,000.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.


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