Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain and every County Commissioner will say (I hope) that they believe in open and transparent government.
The local media says that it supports open and transparent government, running editorials every March supporting "Sunshine Week," a statewide celebration of Tennessee's Open Meetings and Open Records Acts.
After the January 14, 2016, commission meeting, I received information that Mayor Brittain had told the individual taping the meeting to cut the camera off during the portion of the meeting when public comments were made. I was very concerned about this, and I explained what I knew about this censorship to the commission at its February 18, 2016, commission meeting.
The video shows Mayor Brittain admitting that he asked the individual taping the January 14, 2016, commission meeting to censor the taping of that meeting by turning the camera off during the public comments portion of that meeting.
Commissioner Johnny Walker asks if Brittain has the authority to direct that the camera be cut off during public comments. Walker then asks Brittain why he ordered the editing of the tape. Brittain responds: "I thought that it was in the best interest of the meeting." Walker responds: "That portion of the meeting is not important? I didn't hear you."
Commission Chairman Rick Eldridge then states that removing public comments from the tape of the public meeting was some sort of "compromise." Eldridge does not state who was involved in the "compromise," when discussions about the taping/censorship occurred, or when the "compromise" was voted upon.
Why is this commission secretly agreeing to some sort of "compromise" to censor the tapes of its public meetings to edit public comments out of the tapes? This type of censorship and editing of a public meeting is something you would only expect to hear about in a third-world country.
What is it about a three-minute comment by a citizen that terrifies the mayor and at least some county commissioners to the point that they secretly reach an agreement outside of a public meeting to censor public comments out of the official tape of a public meeting of the Commission?
SOME HISTORY BEHIND THE TAPING OF COUNTY COMMISSION MEETINGS:
Hamblen County Commission meetings have been taped for the past 13 years.
When I ran for county commission in 2002, taping and airing public meetings was a key part of my platform.
Upon taking office in September 2002, newly-elected Commissioner Nancy Phillips and I pushed for the taping. Ms. Phillips took the lead in working with Charter to get cameras and related equipment donated. She and I obtained a local donation of microphones, a soundboard, and related equipment.
For nearly 13 years, the entire meeting was taped from start to finish, including public comments which were and still are part of each meeting. The local cable providers then aired the tape of the entire meeting on the local PEG (public, education, and government) channel(s).
Sometimes I agreed with a citizen making a public comment. Sometimes I disagreed. I never attempted to restrict a citizen's right to speak, nor did I ever propose secretly or openly that the tapes of commission meetings be edited to remove public comments by anyone.