How the audit was conducted

The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government sought and examined policies between October 2017 and March 2018. We sought policies of 306 counties, cities and school districts.

The volunteers who collected and examined policies included:

  • Professional journalists with major news organizations
  • Journalism students at the University of Tennessee and Middle Tennessee State University
  • Volunteer citizens, and
  • Members of civic groups, such as the League of Women Voters.

TCOG’s executive director Deborah Fisher oversaw and checked their work.  Dr. Ken Blake, associate professor of journalism at Middle Tennessee State University, provided guidance in setting up the audit tools, including the questions and data collection, and assisted in data analysis.

The auditors first searched for public records policies on the government entities’ websites. If the policy could not be found on an entity’s website, or if the government did not have a website, the auditors then requested the policy from the governmental entity.

If no contact information was on the entity’s website for making a public records request, auditors were instructed to contact the office of the top executive in charge of the entity — for example, the county mayor, city mayor or manager, or school superintendent’s office by phone or email. If no one answered a phone call, they were asked to leave a voice mail with their specific request and their contact information. If they emailed, they were asked to provide the same information.

They were also instructed to follow any directions provided, such as contacting a different person, sending in a request in writing, or filling out any required forms. Auditors were asked to allow a minimum of 10 business days between requesting and receiving a policy.

We had asked that governmental entities mail or email us the policy.

Who we surveyed

In total, auditors searched websites and requested policies for all of the state’s 95 county governments, 109 cities (all of which were above 2,000 population) and 102 school districts.

Of the 306 government entities surveyed, 85% (259 government entities) either provided a public records policy to our auditor or had a public records policy on its website.

In the remainder of cases, 15% (47 government entities) either did not respond to our requests to provide a copy of the policy, required that we come in person to get a copy, stated that they did not have a policy, provided a document other than a public records policy, pointed an auditor to online information that could not be found or presented conflicting information. 

The policies we examined are assumed to be current as of the date we received the policy from the entity or found it on the governmental entity’s website.

Some government entities had different policies for different departments, such as a separate policy for the county sheriff’s office or police department. In cases of multiple policies, we examined the policy of the main executive’s policy, such as the policy for the county mayor’s office.

Questions?  Contact Deborah Fisher at fisher@tcog.info or at (615) 602-4080.

Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is a nonprofit established in 2003 to provide education about public records and open meetings issues and to advocate for open government. It conducts research, tracks legislation and court opinions and provides a Help Line to citizens. More information about TCOG can be found at www.tcog.info.