Friday, February 02, 2007

The sunshine law

Those of you who read my work regularly know that in talking about the mess in Knox County I have mentioned the possible violation of Tennessee's sunshine law, and that I am sure backroom deals were made, probably in the hallway during recesses. At least one person who reads my blog regularly pointed out to me that I live in White Pine, and it is not the least bit uncommon for relatives or friends of Aldermen or the Mayor to find themselves in available city jobs, and that there was some agreement or deal was made to get them there. The point being, of course, that what happened at the Knox County Commission meeting Wednesday is not the least bit uncommon: When politicians have the chance to put their buddies in positions of benefit, they will do so.

There are a couple of key differences, though, between what happens in a town like White Pine and what happened in Knoxville on Wednesday.

The first is that there are about 2,000 people who live in White Pine, and that means that it is practically impossible for someone to get hired to a public position and not know someone in city government who could or would put in a good word for them. I would venture to say that it is impossible to get hired to any job in this town and not know someone who is a friend or a relative that may work in the same place or for the same company that you do-so the same would be true with hyper-local government.

The second is that while it is not impossible to violate the sunshine law in this town, it is extremely hard to do. You really can't go anywhere in town and discuss anything without being overheard. Of the five Aldermen in White Pine, I know three of them personally, two of them are people I would count as personal friends, and I have coffee with one of them nearly every morning except Sundays. I have been at gatherings that were by no means intended to be "public meetings" where town affairs were discussed-but they didn't violate the sunshine law since members of the general public were present and part of the discussion, and because no decisions were made. To violate the sunshine law in a town like this would take a deliberate conspiracy, a well-planned effort.

In Knox County, violating the sunshine law is very easy. All you have to do is exactly what the Commissioners did-call a recess, take the discussion into the hall, into the bathroom, or wherever in the building you might want to go. I have been inside the Knox City/County building numerous times, there are all sorts of unused rooms, semi-quiet places, and relatively empty hallways there where out-of-earshot discussion can be held. The citizens of Knox County got a glimpse of what the regular proceedings of government in Knoxville and Knox County are actually like. I would hazard to say that the sunshine law is violated in that building on a daily, if not an hourly basis. The worst part is that there is no way to officially prove that reality or punish the offenders.



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