Editorial: Try to weaken open-meetings bill failed, but it won’t be the last time

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 06:49 PM

Every legislative session there is an effort by some lawmakers to weaken the state’s open-meetings law. The neverending quest of elected officials to meet in secret to discuss the public’s business knows no holiday.

While this may seem like an issue of interest mostly to the news media, in fact it affects everybody, because unwarranted secrecy in government at any unreasonable level hurts democracy and the people’s access.

Rep. Glen Casada, a Republican from Franklin, tried last year to push a bill that would have allowed local officials to hold more closed-door meetings. He was ready to back a similar bill this year, but has agreed to withdrawn it, at least for the 2013 session.  Casada withdrew the legislation in the House State Government Subcommittee. His proposal last year sought to allow local government officials to meet privately as long as a quorum isn’t present.

He withdrew the measure in 2012 following concerns from the governor and Senate and House speakers, all Republicans. Casada said he has been trying to work with county commissioners on legislation that might pass the subcommittee, but acknowledged last week no compromise has been reached. He said he will study the matter over the summer.

Current law forbids two or more members of a local legislative body from meeting privately to deliberate on public business. There are exceptions, such as certain conferences with lawyers. State law says, “All meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee.”

The exceptions are specific. That hasn’t stopped some governing bodies from pushing for more secrecy, for a law that would allow them to discuss the public’s business without the, you know, public being around. Those pesky citizens and news media, demanding sunshine and accountability.

Those who oppose any further weakening of the open-meetings law will have to remain diligent, because there will be no end to the efforts of synpathetic lawmakers to tear down, brick by brick, the sanctity of the open-meetings law. This time the try failed. Regrettably, it won’t be the last time.