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VOL. 122 | NO. 243 | Friday, December 21, 2007

Recommended Changes to Open Govt. Laws May Have No Sponsor

TRAVIS LOLLER | Associated Press Writer

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Randy McNally

NASHVILLE (AP) - State Sen. Randy McNally has not decided whether he will sponsor legislation proposing changes to Tennessee's open government laws.

The Oak Ridge Republican chaired the study committee that recommended the changes, but said he has some concerns about a proposal that would allow government officials to meet privately.

"Normally a bill is drafted (after recommendations are made) and usually it's the chairman of the committee that handles that, but that's not a law or anything," he said.

The recommendations, which were issued in final written form this week, would be a big change over the current law that does not allow officials to discuss public business in private meetings, with some narrow exceptions.

The issue was in the news recently when members of the Knox County Commission broke the law by meeting in private to discuss appointing 12 people to commission seats and other local offices. Some of the appointees were relatives and political allies of the commissioners, and a judge in a civil lawsuit nixed all the appointments.

The new proposal would change the law to allow up to three members of a government panel to deliberate in private, and even decide how they will vote, as long as they do not constitute a majority or quorum of whatever body they serve on.

For example, three could meet in private if they were part of a panel with six or more members. If the panel had four or five members, then only two could meet together privately. And if the panel had three members or fewer, those members could not discuss public business in private.

Nothing in the current law prevents members from meeting socially and discussing things they have no authority over as government officials, like the weather or their families.

The proposal does not affect the General Assembly, which is exempt from the open government rules.

McNally said he also was concerned about a number of proposed exemptions to the current open meetings law that would allow full panels to meet in private to discuss things like the job performance of a director of schools or the marketing strategies of a public hospital.

"The 'no more than three' provision and the exemptions are probably my major concerns," he said, "but there are also some good things."

Among the positive changes McNally cited: The committee established an ombudsman who will advise officials and the public on when government meetings and records must be public. It also established an advisory committee to study several outstanding issues.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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