Sunday, February 11, 2007

February 10, 2007 Public Records Ombudsman in TN?

Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen is discussing setting up a public records "ombudsman" to work out of the Comptroller's Office to help resolve public records issues for citizens.

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government [TCOG] has been pushing for over 3 years to improve Tennessee's open records and open meetings laws.

[I support groups that encourage open government, and I am a member of TCOG.]

The full AP article is posted on the website of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government (TCOG).

Difficulty in getting public records often occurs at the local level. TCOG did a statewide public records survey in 2004 and found that citizens who requested public records at the local level were denied those records about 1/3 of the time.

Currently, if a citizen is denied a record that he thinks is public, there are only two options: (1) give up (government loves that) or (2) file a lawsuit (often expensive and time-consuming).

Now the Governor is talking about a third option--an ombudsman that citizens can contact when public document issues come up.

I hope that "government officials" groups, such as the Tennessee County Commissioners Assn., the Tennessee County Mayors Assn., and others will not oppose efforts to open up government.

[The 2/8/07 article states that Doug Goddard with the Tennessee County Commissioners Association was not available for comment.]

While on the Hamblen County Commission, I met and spoke to Doug Goddard several times. I think that Mr. Goddard himself believes in open government. I hope that the Tennessee County Commissioners Association that he leads also believes in open government and recognizes that there should be a way to resolve public records requests short of a lawsuit that costs the county and the citizen.

I'll be watching and contacting my legislators soon (Rep. John Litz and Sen. Steve Southerland in support of ways to make government transparent and open.

With the goal of making local government more open and transparent, I asked the Hamblen County Commission at its January meeting to consider posting government information (e.g. minutes of all meetings, budget data and amendments, quarterly line item financial reports, monthly check listings, property records, etc) on the Hamblen County Government website.

The information is there. The technology is there. The only thing lacking at this point is government willingness to open up!

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