Tennessee Coalition for Open Government seeks to preserve, protect and improve citizen access to public information and open government in Tennessee through an alliance of citizens, journalists and civic groups. Our focus is research and education because we believe knowledgeable citizens are the best way to protect the free flow of information.
Since its inception in 2003, TCOG has provided training and presentations and offered on-the-spot free guidance through its HelpLine to thousands of ordinary citizens, journalists, members of nonprofit organizations and government officials. It has conducted research into open government issues, providing information about access issues to citizens, journalists and lawmakers.
One early landmark accomplishment came in 2004 when we trained 112 citizens and journalists to conduct a statewide audit in each of the state’s 95 counties on the response to citizens requesting commonplace public records that should have been readily available. They were denied access one-third of the time.
The audit results were widely shared. A legislative study committee was created, and in 2008, the Legislature passed the first improvements in public records laws in 25 years.
Before the change, officials did not have to cite a legal basis for denying records and there were no rules regarding fees, allowing government officials to essentially discourage requests through copying costs. The law also ushered in a new deadline for government officials to respond to public records request.
In addition, the Legislature created a new Office of Open Records Counsel as a resource for citizens and governmental entities to improve compliance. An Advisory Committee on Open Government was also formed.
TCOG continues to work on emerging issues in open government. We are particularly concerned about excessive fees on citizens for what should be readily available government information, unnecessary rules that create roadblocks or inefficiencies, access to electronic records in database format, and adequate notice and agenda information about upcoming public meetings. We are also concerned about any legislative efforts that would reduce government accountability by discouraging access to government information (such as through additional fees) or efforts to make more government records secret. More than 350 exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act have been created since it was passed in 1957 and more are added each year.
We have five core services and programs:
- Help Line for open government issues
- Public presentations
- Workshops on public records and open meetings
- Surveys and audits
- News and resources
TCOG’s method is to work through a unique nonpartisan alliance of citizens, media and civic groups interested in preserving access to government information and public meetings. We are a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.
You can support TCOG’s work by making a donation or by becoming an associate member. We are a 501(c)(3) and contributions are tax-deductible.