VOL. 11 | NO. 28 | Saturday, July 14, 2018
The Memphis News Editorial
Editorial: Early-Voting Clash Shows Need for Refresher Course
The ruling by Chancellor JoeDae Jenkins in the early voting lawsuit shows a need for those doing the public’s business to rededicate themselves to being open and transparent.
One undercurrent of the hearing that prompted Jenkins to declare that the Shelby County Election Commission had at least violated the spirit of the Tennessee Open Meetings Law is that the plaintiffs in the suit were willing to say the violation could have been unintentional.
What we find are violations that are unintentional and quite intentional but usually in the name of getting things done in the name of efficiency.
In the case of the election commission, the original plan to add five new early-voting sites and make Agricenter International the single voting site to open for the first four days of the early-voting period began in January with commission chairman Robert Meyers talking in the most general terms to elections administrator Linda Phillips.
Phillips then pursued that possibility over the next five months until the plan surfaced in June at a public meeting, where a handful of people including the commission were present.
Meyers testified that he had no idea it would turn into the political controversy it became. That may well be the epitaph of such unintentional violations that nevertheless point to the reason we have an Open Meetings Law and other laws that apply to how the people's business is done.
The issue is not what the item is or whether it is controversial.
The Shelby County Commission's meetings regularly involve a flood of add-on resolutions, substitute items and amended versions passed out to commissioners while the meeting is underway.
The commission recently decided the bills it gets from its legislative policy adviser Julian Bolton – an attorney who bills by the hour and who is paid with taxpayer money – are protected by attorney-client privilege.
This is not a matter of redacting the subject matter. The entire billing records including dollar figures could not be seen by the public.
The Memphis City Council has declared a legal opinion from its attorney on whether there could be special city council elections on the November ballot is also a private matter. It’s a legal opinion whose distribution list included three council members who could be elected to county office in the August elections.
With the information that the public doesn’t get they could then time their departures from the council in such a way that it would mean the difference between whether the remaining council members pick a successor to serve more than a year in office or their constituents get to vote on their successor two months after they take their new offices.
All of this is the public’s business, at least by the spirit of the state laws governing these matters and by common sense. That extends to the public getting documents in writing as elected officials get them.
It’s time for a refresher course on this matter enforced by court order when necessary.