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Opinion - Column
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During the pandemic, members of local and state governing bodies have been allowed to conduct meetings electronically per executive order by Gov. Bill Lee. They have not had to hold physical meetings in a physical place. They can hold meetings on Zoom or even by telephone conference call, as long as they allow the public real-time live audio or video access and follow other rules. In some instances, this has meant that the governing body is on videoconference, and the public must show up physically at city hall to watch them through a government computer. It has not been ideal for citizens, who have lost the benefit of interaction with their representatives before and after physical meetings of county commissions, city councils and zoning boards. But the minimum - the ability to follow the discussion, know who is speaking and how a person is voting - has been protected under provisions in the governor's executive order. After the pandemic eases, the regular rules of Tennessee's Sunshine Law will go back into effect. But some local elected officials, county commissioners specifically, want to continue to be able to patch into a meeting and vote by phone instead of physically attend. Problem is, this time around, the protections for the public that were carefully preserved in the governor's executive order would disappear. House Bill 327 and Senate Bill 301, sponsored by two Knoxville lawmakers at the request of the Knox County Commission, would permit almost half of a county legislative body to participate and vote in a given meeting by calling in instead of appearing in person if they meet certain requirements. A healthy debate should take place on whether legislating by phone and not in front of constituents is a good idea. The Tennessee Constitution prevents state lawmakers from doing this. But if the General Assembly thinks it's important to allow county commission members to call in and debate and vote by phone, then surely the public needs protections to assure that citizens can hear and understand who is talking on the phone at any given time and how those members vote. How did such legislation emerge? The idea as presented by its sponsors is noble and kind. It would allow county commissioners who are having a family emergency or medical emergency to stay at home and still participate and vote in a meeting. However, it's unclear what would constitute a "family emergency" or even "medical emergency." The legislation gives authority for that determination to the county commission, raising questions about potential misuse or abuse. Another reason is more straightforward - the member is out of the county for work, but even that could be abused. The fourth reason is specific and seems unlikely to be abused - the member is called into military service. The bill requires that a quorum of the county legislative body be at the physical location of the meeting before other members are allowed to call in and vote by phone. For example, on a county commission with 25 members, only 12 members could call in for any given meeting. On the 40-member Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County, only 19 members could participate electronically at the same time. While it may seem an unlikely scenario for so many to call in, the bill permits it. And it would not be completely outside the imagination that with such large governing bodies, you might have six or seven people taking advantage of the electronic participation. Like with any slippery slope, we ease into new realities slowly. The legislation creates an exception to the entirety of the Open Meetings Act, not just the section that sets out rules on how electronic participation in meetings should take place - rules that have been developed largely for state boards. This means if the legislation became law, it would trump where it conflicts with any part of Tennessee's open meetings law. The bill instead envisions that the county legislative bodies would come up with their own rules to protect the public's interest in open meetings. This assumes that each of the state's 95 county legislative bodies would impose stricter standards on themselves than what is required in the open meetings law - an idea that deserves more examination and thought. Finally, the bill's sponsors point to a natural limitation in the legislation: An elected official could participate electronically in only two commission meetings a year. It's a seemingly small hole in the open meetings law for the state's 95 county legislative bodies. But if passed, it likely won't be long before city councils, boards of aldermen and other local governing bodies ask for the same. And the limits of twice a year? Why not three? And how about expanding it to county budget committee meetings, too? We should proceed cautiously and thoughtfully down this route of permanent exceptions to the open meetings law. The enthusiasm of an elected official for more personal convenience should be tempered with the duty of appearing before the public they represent and conducting business in the open. more
Most of the time we reflect on the prior year's passing in January. But I felt like it was only appropriate to bring to light in March 2021 the passing of some of those rough waters from 2020. Let's get the doldrums out of the way first. Then I want to accentuate the positive, because there really is a lot to be thankful for in this community... more
Bedford County has a new school superintendent - Dr. Tammy Garrett of Murfreesboro. Congratulations and welcome from a product of the local education system. Garrett was appointed by Bedford County Board of Education on Tuesday after receiving a majority vote (7-2.)... more
We started back in Legislative Session at noon on January 12. We always start Session on the second Tuesday of January every year. Each start is full of excitement and this year was no different with lots of new people and lots of extra security. This year starts the 112th General Assembly, which will last for 2 years. ... more
I was so excited to learn the other day that Barry Gibb - a member of one of my all-time favorite singing groups, The Bee Gees - and Tennessee's own Dolly Parton are doing a remake of the brothers' Gibb song, "Words." Due to current circumstances, they should have remade another famous Bee Gees hit, "Stayin' Alive."... more
One of the primary battle lines in the political war over COVID-19 is masks — do they work? Should government be allowed to mandate wearing them? Some of the sideline arguments are people who say COVID is not real, a hoax dreamed up by Democrats to bring down Trump. Some say mask mandates are a liberal Democrat scheme to gain control over the masses... more
To the editor,   Ms. Lesnik in her story in the referenced edition of the Times-Gazette (Wednesday, Nov. 25), states that the first Thanksgiving took place in Massachusetts in 1621. Wrong!   Below is a brief summary of the facts to state the historical truth that the first Thanksgiving took place in Virginia in 1619... more
In today’s custody courts and departments of child services, mental abuse is not taken as seriously as physical abuse is. Many people may wonder why, and some may think that mental abuse is just a way for a kid to claim they are being hurt. One thing for sure is that mental abuse is one hundred percent real for many kids... more
The current National election for various offices including the presidency has constantly been at the front with the liberal Democrat-controlled  media preaching doomsday if Trump is reelected.  However, contention and chaos during the current election pales in magnitude and secretive underhand tactics when compared to one of  Americas' most controversial past elections.  The subject controversial  and questionable election  occurred during the presidential election of 1876 which is known as the Compromise of !877 and resulted in Republican Ohio governor and wounded Civil War veteran  Rutherford Hayes defeating New York Democrat  governor  Samuel Tiden. . ... more
I’ve refrained the last eight months from pushing my viewpoints about wearing masks during the pandemic onto others. Still, medical studies are showing that the practice — one which I’ve implemented in public since March — is proving beneficial to stopping the spread of the coronavirus... more
A Davidson County chancellor took much-needed action last week. She gave public accountability a boost and set the Attorney General’s Office straight on the Open Meetings Act. Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled on Friday that the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance violated the Open Meetings Act by holding an email vote — outside a public meeting and without public notice — to approve a settlement with a lawmaker, substantially reducing his outstanding fines. ... more
While millions of acres burn out West, Democratic governors in Oregon and California are in heated debates with President Trump about who and what’s to blame for the massive wildfires in their states. The governors say climate change is to blame for the scope and intensity of the fires. (The implication here is that because Trump has done nothing to try and rein in climate change, he is to blame for the fires.)... more
Do we live in a democracy?  Well,  yes and no.   We don’t live in a true democracy.  In a true democracy, governmental policies that affect the majority of citizens are voted up or down by the majority of citizens. We live in a Republic.  In a Republic, citizens vote periodically for an agent — the so called representatives (congress, senate) — who decides on the best policy, (law) for all the people.  We also vote for a president to faithfully carry out those laws. ... more
Our agriculture industry is an essential part of our economy, bringing in nearly $75 billion of revenue per year. In particular, Bedford County is one of Tennessee’s top-producing agricultural counties. We need to ensure that our farmers are treated fairly – something that the previous Administrations – both Democrat and Republican – have failed to do. In President Trump, we have a leader willing to stand up for fair and reciprocal trading terms for Americans’ access to agricultural markets... more
I was thinking the other day, wouldn’t it be lovely, if I were to wake up from sleep and realize I had dreamed the whole COVID thing. You know how elated you are many times to discover certain events didn’t happen, which were present in your dreams?... more
As Tennessee sets new records in the spread of COVID-19, Governor Lee and county mayors are employing the time-honored strategy of sloughing the blame for a problem onto the victims. The state, Lee said, will not impose a mask mandate. Governor Lee shirked his responsibility July 3 kicking the politically unpalatable can of worms down the road to the county mayors... more
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