A former Tennessee Press Association president, judge, district attorney, newspaper editor and publisher has been become the 16th inductee into the State Open Government Hall of Fame. Selected by a panel from the National Freedom of Information Coalition and Society of Professional Journalists, Sam D. Kennedy becomes another member of the “Heroes of the Fifty States” for his work to promote open government and transparency.
For more than half a century, Kennedy has been a First Amendment proponent and active FOI advocate of Tennessee state and local government. Throughout his long career, he served the public in many capacities including positions spanning journalism, law and county government.
In Maury County, the Middle Tennessee community Kennedy calls home, he served as General Sessions Judge and District Attorney for the 14th Judicial District, 1958-1965, when he helped organize the District Attorney Conference. He was elected for one term as Maury County Executive in 1992 (he did not run for re-election). He also held state roles including as a member of the Tennessee State School Board and the Law Revision Commission.
But the center of his career was as a newspaper man. Kennedy was editor and publisher of the Columbia Daily Herald and a leader in the Tennessee Press Association, serving as a president, and chairing its Government Affairs Committee for 30 years. He also served as a director for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
Through his work in TPA, he is credited with leading the charge to have the Tennessee General Assembly pass and adopt in 1974 the Tennessee Sunshine Law. Because of his “insider’s view” of the legal, government and journalism communities, Kennedy “clearly understood the value of a truly open government, and of the enormous dangers to democracy a lack of transparency represents,” said Gregg Jones, CEO of Jones Media, Inc. of Greenville, TN.
In addition to being known as the father of Tennessee’s Sunshine Law and helping draft it, Kennedy also helped pass Tennessee’s reporter’s shield law in 1973, said Frank Gibson, the director of public policy for the Tennessee Press Association. He also worked to make it easier for citizens to challenge denial of public records requests by helping convince the state to adopt a quicker “show cause” court procedure.
Kennedy also was instrumental in the establishment in 2003 of TCOG, an affiliate state coalition with the NFOIC, and the Columbia Daily Herald remains a supporting member of TCOG.
“Today, many Tennesseans who have no idea who Sam D. Kennedy is are benefitting from his ceaseless fight to keep our local and state governments as transparent as possible,” added Jones.
Kennedy still writes a newspaper column, which appears in the Columbia Daily Herald, which he sold in 1983, as well as in other Kennedy newspapers owned by the family today: The Lawrence County Advocate, The Waverly News Democrat and the Buffalo River Review.
The Open Government Hall of Fame is a joint initiative of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). Inductees are recognized for their “long and steady effort to preserve and protect the free flow of information about state and local government that is vital to the public in a democracy.”
Formal induction takes place on October 8th at the 2016 Freedom of Information Summit in Washington, D.C.