published Saturday, January 14th, 2012

Tennessee Senate chairman opposes changes to sunshine law

NASHVILLE — The chairman of a Senate committee says he’s against changes to the state’s Open Meetings Act he believes would prevent transparency and undermine the public’s trust in government.

Sen. Ken Yager, who served as county executive of Roane County for 24 years, oversees the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

The Harriman Republican said he opposes a proposal supported by some county commissions to allow members of government to discuss public affairs in private, as long as those in the discussion are less than a quorum.

The law, often referred to as the sunshine law, requires public notice prior to meetings of two or more members of a group that discusses public policy.

“Citizens need to understand how government decisions are made,” Yager said. “Lack of transparency prevents the public from actively participating in government and from raising questions or expressing their opinions.”

Frank Gibson, public policy director of the Tennessee Press Association, told The Associated Press on Friday that he agrees with Yager.

“As he points out, the public cannot have conversation with their elected officials if they don’t know what is under consideration,” Gibson said.

Earlier this week, The Commercial Appeal reported that Shelby County Commission members have complained that the sunshine law should be loosened to allow more secrecy.

At a recent meeting, commissioners discussed member Steve Mulroy’s call to change the law. Mulroy said the openness rules are so strict that they turn elected local representatives into lawbreakers, according to the newspaper.

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