On May 15, 2003, the idea of a nonprofit, nonpartisan coalition of citizens, professionals, media and academic groups was officially born when its charter was filed with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government’s initial board of directors included Ron Fryar as president, then with The Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro and a continuing board member; Doug Pierce, a media attorney with King & Ballow who has remained on the board and is now TCOG’s president; Kent Flanagan, then the bureau chief of The Associated Press who also served as TCOG’s executive director for two years; Steve Lake, publisher of the Citizen-Press in Pulaski; Dorothy Bowles, journalism professor for University of Tennessee in Knoxville, who remains on TCOG’s executive committee as secretary; and Jennifer Peebles, then the state editor for The Tennessean, and now managing editor for digital at the Washington Examiner.
Frank Gibson, a longtime reporter and editor of The Tennessean and national and state leader in the Society of Professional Journalists, was the driving force behind the organization and become TCOG’s well-known executive director for eight years. Most media in Tennessee had and still have his phone number at their fingertips, as do many citizens and lawmakers. Gibson is now public policy director for the Tennessee Press Association.
TCOG’s purpose then, and still is, to preserve, protect and improve citizen access to public information and open government in Tennessee. Its 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 to more than 2,000 people and offered guidance to more than 1,000 journalists and citizens who faced obstacles in getting public records or in getting local officials to abide by sunshine laws. It has reached many more through its website, columns, media interviews and email newsletter.
TCOG’s landmark accomplishment came when its 2004 statewide public records compliance audit brought attention to the difficulty in obtaining government information and laws were strengthened.
TCOG continues to offer services and research, and remains committed to its founding purpose outlined in that original charter, quoted here:
“The Corporation is organized exclusively for charitable, scientific and educational purposes. Without limiting the foregoing, the principal purposes for which the Corporation is organized are: To alone, or in cooperation with other persons or organizations do any and all lawful acts and things that may be necessary, useful, suitable or proper for the furtherance, accomplishment or attainment of any or all of the purposes or powers of the Corporation; to preserve, protect, and improve citizen access to public information and open government in Tennessee; to establish a coalition of citizen, professional, academic and media groups; to ascertain through research surveys the status of open government laws in Tennessee; to assess the availability of government information to the public; to educate the public, representatives of media, government officials and public employees on the requirements of Tennessee’s “open government” laws; to establish avenues and vehicles of communication between affected parties; to encourage through education public participation in the defense of First Amendment and open government rights contained in the Tennessee and U.S. Constitution and relevant state open government statues; and to solicit, collect, receive, accumulate and administer and disburse funds in such a manner as will, in the sole discretion of the Board of Directors, most effectively operate to further charitable, scientific, and educational purposes that qualify under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended or the corresponding section of any future federal tax code (the “Code”).
To all of its supporters who have donated time, money and muscle to TCOG’s cause through the years, Happy 11th!