Keep The Sun Shining On Public's Business
Friday, November 4, 2011 5:10 am
Members of county commissions, town councils and school boards are elected to office for the purpose of conducting public business.
That business can include increasing property taxes, determining where water and sewer lines are placed, and whether a school in a particular area should stay open, or be closed.
Those governmental bodies also determine how much money taxpayers spend on goods and services, and how it is allocated.
They make major decisions which can effect people throughout a city or county, or minor ones which impact only a few.
However, regardless of how many people are involved, every decision a governmental body makes should be discussed and debated in a public forum.
A move is afoot, sponsored by the Tennessee County Commissioners Association, to change Tennessee's Sunshine Law in such a way as to allow local elected officials across the state the opportunity to meet in secret, as long as a quorum is not reached.
The downside of changing the law in this fashion is obvious, and a danger to the community. Officials would be able to meet secretly, discuss a matter, decide how they are going to vote, and then take action on the matter at a public meeting, without having to explain why, or receiving the public's feedback.
One example of how that scenario might play out was the debate over how much to raise the property tax to fund this year's Cannon County budget, or whether to raise it at all.
Commissioners were first schedule to approve a 20-cent increase, then a 15-cent increase. However, due in large part to public outcry at an August meeting, the increase was scaled back to 12-cents when all was said and done.
On the other hand, had commissioners been allowed to meet privately before meetings, the increase might have been well over 20 cents.
Likewise, Cannon County Schools held community forums last year on the subject of adding a middle school to the class structure. Sentiment ran about even among the public both for and against the idea. The final decision was to not pursue such a change for now, but if school board members were inclined to do so, they could have without listening to what their constituents had to say under the new proposal being offered by the Tennessee County Commission Association.
The bottom line is that there is no public business which should be discussed outside of a public meeting, and Cannon County Commissioners, Tennessee State Legislatures and citizens of the State of Tennessee should demand that it be and stay that way.