Friday, September 14, 2007

I'll sign for you

At yesterday's court session of the trial to determine whether the Knox County Commission violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act, Commission Office director Jolie Bonavita acknowledged that she contacted 14 Commissioners at the request of Commission Chairman Scott Moore. The testimony of Ms. Bonavita was extracted by one Herbert S. Moncier, a man who is not always known for courtroom sanity.

According to Ms. Bonavita, she called the Commissioners to get their consent for a special-called meeting of the County Commission. State Law requires a letter to be signed by the requisite number of Commissioners be submitted to the Commission Chairman. Ms. Bonavita says she did it another way:

Jolie Bonavita acknowledged that she contacted each commissioner individually by phone and then affixed their respective electronic signatures to a letter calling for the Jan. 31 meeting.

The Law Director’s Office contends that the process Moore directed Bonavita to carry out is allowed under state law.

Legal or not, it certainly is shady-if for no other reason than the fact that Commissioners were not required to physically read the official document they were sending to the Chairman and to put their names to it. Five Commissioners either didn't "sign" were were perceived by the lovely Ms. Bonavita to be unavailable.

One thing that does become clear with each passing hour is that Chairman Scott Moore was not the least bit interested in the sunshine during this entire process. According to News-Sentinel staff reporter Rebecca Ferrar, Moore wanted to have a closed door meeting with County Law Director John Owings to discuss the Supreme Court ruling. Because the violation of the Open Meetings Act would be so glaring, that idea was scrapped.

The great problem in this case is the fact that while the Open Meetings Act may have been violated, Tennessee has one of the weakest sunshine laws in terms of punitive action in the Union. Everyone talks about our open meeting and open government laws and the Public Records Act, but fails to consider that there is very little that can be done to punish the guilty. In the end, the most that can happen in the short-term is a modified (and similarly smelly) reappointment process.



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