Sunlight Weekly Roundup: “There is no need for secrecy when conducting the public’s business.”

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  • In Tennessee, Sullivan County Commissioner Bill Kilgore wants to weaken Tennessee’s open meeting laws and allow commissioners to conduct county business during a private phone conversation or over lunch.  As it stands now, the General Assembly is required to hold such a public meeting if a majority of elected officials are present. Kilgore said he wants it “so all the legislatures in Tennessee will have the same rules.” The laws, as they are written, make it hard for a county commissioner to conduct business, Kilgore said, claiming he can’t discuss a proposed piece of legislation over the phone with another commission member without violating the law. Frank Gibson, founding director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the law, as it is written, works, maintaining that county commissioners can have a phone conversation or lunch; they just cannot ask another commissioner for a vote.  Greg Sherill, the Tennessee Press Association executive director, opposes the local governments’ attempt to get the law changed, saying it is an effective way to run local government. “The law – the way it – is fosters discussion,” Sherill, adding, “The public’s business should be done in public. There is no need for secrecy when conducting the public’s business.” For more information, see James Shea’s post on the Tri Citiesblog.
  • For the first time the state of Maryland has set up a panel to make the General Assembly more transparent. The Joint Committee on Transparency and Open Government, created by the legislature, discussed some wide-ranging initiatives to make it easier for citizens to keep up with what state government is doing. Delegate Heather Mizeur, known as the House’s “Ms. Transparency” since she had adopted the cause as one of her key issues, told members the Assembly web site is less user-friendly than those of many other states, saying it is “an eight track tape player in an IPhone universe.” She suggested that the panel to set a goal of upgrading it before the 2013 session. For more information see Micheal Dresser’s post on Maryland Politics.
  • The website MainOpenGov.org has added salary and benefits data for Maine State Housing Authority employees to its register. The data from Maine Housing was provided in response to a Freedom of Access Act request made by The Maine Heritage Policy Center. Sam Adolphsen, Director of Open Government at the Maine Heritage Policy Center maintains, “The Maine State Housing Authority handles a great deal of public money, and is responsible for providing critical services for our most vulnerable citizens. It’s vital that their operations are transparent, and that they are accountable to taxpayers for how they spend those public funds. This is particularly important at a time when 6,500 of our fellow Mainers find themselves on the waiting list for affordable housing.” For more on his take, see his post on the Maine Policy blog.
  • Wayne County judge Robert Colombo found there was a “clear violation” of Michigan law in the search for a Wayne County Airport Authority CEO that ended in Turkia Mullin’s appointment. The judge found multiple violations of the Open Meetings Act and issued an injunction against future violations. He said he was concerned about how the airport does future executive searches, but his ruling does not invalidate Mullin’s hiring. The comments came during a hearing this morning on union activist Robert Davis’ challenge the airport board over meetings it held during the search process that ultimately ended with the board hiring Mullin and paying her $250,000 a year. Davis released an email showing that the head of a candidate search firm sent an email to another candidate telling that person that Mullin got the job. The email was sent about an hour before the board actually voted. For the whole store, see Mike Wilkinson’s post on Legal News.

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