Daylight spread on Sunshine Law?

By Lesley Jenkins
star staff
ljenkins@starhq.com
During yesterday's County Commission meeting, continuing controversy over county-wide zoning led some to debate whether or not the Planning Commission violated the Tennessee Sunshine Law by not giving adequate public notice of its Dec. 16 meeting.
Commissioner John Lewis made a motion at the December meeting to print copies of the minutes to place throughout the courthouse for the public to pick up. A motion to adjourn was accepted before Lewis' motion was finalized. County Mayor Dale Fair addressed the motion on Monday for Lewis and the other commissioners to accept or decline.
The discussion of the motion led into a debate between the county's attorney and commissioners about the Sunshine Law.
According to the law, "meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee. Governing body means -- the members of any public body which consists of two or more members with the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration."
The Planning Commission is considered a governing body which should give "adequate public notice" of their upcoming meetings. The controversy among some commissioners and citizens is what defines "adequate public notice" required by the law.
A notice of the meeting was not paid for and published in a local newspaper, which is what some believe "adequate public notice" referred to.
County Attorney George Dugger said, "There is nothing in the Sunshine Law that makes it mandatory to publish a paid ad in the newspaper. What we do is we notify these people that we are having a meeting and they can put it in the paper if they want to. There are certain things that we have to put in the paper and put a paid ad in there."
The Sunshine Law reads in Chapter 8-44-103, "Any such governmental body which holds a meeting previously scheduled by statute, ordinance, or resolution shall give adequate public notice of such meeting."
When commissioners said meetings should be posted somewhere in the courthouse, Fair said he is getting a tripod and a board to place meeting notices near the County Court Clerk's office.
Before the discussion ended, John D. Snyder said, "I think every county commissioner oughta get a notice everytime there is a meeting in the courthouse."
In an interview with the Star, Jim Dahlman, president of the Greater Tri-Cities Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, was notified of the debate and said, "apparently the Planning Commission fulfilled the letter of the law. From my sketchy knowledge, it doesn't seem to be a legal problem."
In response to the two aspects of the law, he added, "There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. They are only bound by the letter of the law, but in interest of a good relationship, whenever possible I would encourage governments to meet the law and go beyond to make sure the community is aware of what's going on ... maybe this is just an opportunity to go beyond the letter of the law."