There was a special called meeting of the Hamblen County Commission on Tuesday, May 8, but the public wasn't told or notified.
Officials and a few other individuals received e-mail notification about the meeting from the Hamblen County Mayor's Office around May 1.
[I just happened to hear about the meeting from a Hamblen County official a few days before the meeting was to take place. ]
There is a Sunshine Law in Tennessee. The Sunshine Law states that it is the public policy of the state that the business of the public must be conducted in public.
To make sure that public business is conducted in public, the Sunshine Law provides that there must be "adequate public notice" for regular meetings and for special called meetings.
Just prior to the start of the business portion of the May 8th meeting, I notified the entire commission that there had been only e-mail notification to a very limited number of individuals about this special meeting, and I expressed my concern over this apparent violation of the Sunshine Law.
Chairman Ford turned to Mayor Purkey, and the Mayor said something to the effect that they had complied with the notice requirements for public meetings.
When asked specifically whether an e-mail notification that only went to a very limited number of individuals in Hamblen County could be considered adequate notice to the 60,000 Hamblen countians who did NOT receive the e-mail or any public notice, Chairman Ford referred the question to County Attorney Rusty Cantwell.
Cantwell expressed no concern about the legality of public notice even when the only notice of the meeting was an e-mail that was sent to a very limited number of specific recipients.
While it may have been hoped or expected that the press would notify the public of this special meeting, that didn't occur. The Sunshine Law doesn't state that a hope or expectation that someone will provide notice of the meeting meets the actual notice requirement.
The Sunshine Law states that there must be "adequate public notice" for regular and special called meetings. T.C.A. 8-44-103.
How can you conduct public business in public if you don't tell the public that there is a public meeting and if you don't provide notice as to when and where the meeting will take place?
There wasn't any Sunshine at the May 8th meeting even though it was an especially important meeting--a special called meeting during which appointment of the Hamblen County Ethics Committee would take place. The only other item on the agenda was termites in the Courthouse.
Mayor David Purkey, as expected, appointed commissioners Stancil Ford and Joe Swann and Trustee Bill Brittain to the Ethics Committee. Joe Swann then jumped in and nominated Jack Cartwright and Jim Harrison for the "regular citizen" positions.
Right before the meeting, I talked with two commissioners and recommended Patricia Stephens and Steve Sublett for the Ethics Committee. Each was nominated and received three and four votes respectively. Both Ms. Stephens and Mr. Sublett attend commission meetings regularly, are thoughtful and conscientious individuals, and would have represented the citizens and taxpayers well.
Bonnie Oakberg was also nominated. She attends meetings regularly and would have served well. Bonnie had taken the initiative to submit her own list of possible Ethics Committee nominees to commissioners several weeks ago.
I know Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Harrison by name only. I don't know how many commission meetings they have attended in the past 4-5 years.
I trust that Mr. Cartwright and Mr. Harrison along with the other members of the Ethics Committee will serve honorably, recognizing that they have perhaps the most important jobs in Hamblen County. They are the gatekeepers of ethics in Hamblen County.
It is unfortunate and ironic, however, that the appointment of this new five-man Hamblen County Ethics Committee took place at a meeting of which the public meeting was not notified.
It is unfortunate, and that is putting it midly, that the County Mayor, the County Attorney, and Commission Chair Stancil Ford (who was appointed to the Ethics Committee) had zero concern about the lack of public notice for this meeting and zero concern about the apparent violation of the notice requirements of the Sunshine Law.
It is unfortunate, and that is putting it mildly, that the thirteen other commissioners, including Joe Swann (who was appointed to the Ethics Committee), had zero concern about the lack of public notice for this meeting and zero concern about the apparent violation of the notice requirements of the Sunshine Law in Tennessee.