A member of the Tennessee Ethics Commission tried to battle back against the media and some negative stories regarding the panel’s dealings with public records requests today but was overruled by fellow commissioners.
Linda Knight, an attorney and member of the ethics commission, said some news accounts had alleged that the panel had not granted an open records request, which she said was “not true.”
Knight said the commission had just “deferred” the request until it had a clearer understanding of the public records law. The records request was made to see draft advisory opinions regarding whether attorneys had to register as lobbyists when representing their clients.
To combat any misunderstandings, Knight said the commission needed to publish a memo on its Web site to explain points about the open records law and correct misunderstandings or misstatements that may have been published.
“I would like to have the commission, whether it is to put out some op-ed material, but I certainly think we need to post something on the Web site that says ‘under the open meetings act, you do have to do this, you don’t have to do that,’” Knight told fellow commissioners.
Knight said that would help ensure the public that the commission had not violated the open meetings act or public records act.
“It will be much more difficult for people to say, ‘well, there was something wrong with that’ because there wasn’t,” Knight said.
But Knight’s fellow commissioners disagreed with taking overt actions to defend the commission on the issue of whether it had complied with the Public Records and Open Meetings Acts.
Larry Brown, a commissioner, told Knight that the press “owns the newspapers” and they are “going to say what they want to say.”
Brown recommended against an overt public outreach explaining the commission’s actions.
“To me, it’s the punch, counterpunch,” Brown said. “They are going to say something and we’re going to say something.”
The commission decided to not take any special public relations actions, and voted unanimously to approve their rules governing public records.
As a result, the commission has fulfilled the public records request filed by lawyers to see draft advisory opinions regarding whether attorneys had to register as lobbyists when representing their clients.