Monday, December 10, 2007

“Waterboarding” the Open Meetings Law

Recently, a state legislative panel formed to strengthen Tennessee's Sunshine Law became so counter-productive that there were calls to disband it. It appears the panel was waterboarding the Open Meetings law into submission. With the current contorted recommendations, the law will be too weak to stand for much of anything.

In the end, the legislative panel recommended watering down the open meetings law to allow private meetings of up to three to discuss public business as long as they do not constitute a majority of whatever body they serve on. The proposal does not affect the General Assembly, which is exempt from the provisions.

The Open Meetings Act, drafted in the post-Watergate, known as the Sunshine Law, requires that local government bodies do all their decision-making in public. These measures help reduce corruption, ensure greater transparency and accountability, and foster public trust in the vital institutions of government.

The practice of twisting and altering the sunshine law seems to be odd on the heels of indictments, convictions, and on-going criminal investigations in Tennessee. We don't want to marginalize the amount of time and effort that many in elected office devote to their positions, but the system requires openness. This sunshine provision and other anti-corruption measures do make the process seem less efficient in the short term; however, ensuring long term credibility and transparency overrides these perceived gains.

* Waterboarding – a water torture technique.