I don’t often write on this blog about Tennessee Coalition for Open Government’s activities, but since we got some unexpected coverage in Johnson City this week from the Johnson City Press, I thought I would share.
So far in 2014, TCOG has done 13 educational presentations for journalists, citizens and college students about open records and open meetings laws in Tennessee, and how to use them. We’ve reached about 360 people directly through these presentations. (I have to say, TCOG training is one of the favorite parts of my job, maybe aside from answering the hotline calls which seems to be a booming business.)
Over the past few days, I was in the Tri-Cities area, and did media training for WJHL Channel 11, and gave a presentation on journalism and our open government laws to mass communications students at East Tennessee State University.
There are some good tips in the the whole story from the Johnson City Press, “Can’t get a public record? Advocate says, “Write about it”, so I hope you read it. Here’s an excerpt:
An advocate for open records and open meetings in Tennessee said Tuesday that state and local agencies often broaden protections that don’t apply to them, and citizens and the media should keep them accountable.
Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, spoke to local media and East Tennessee State University journalism students on the issue of open records and open meetings laws as part of the agency’s educational program.
“A public record is open for inspection unless a state law says it is not,” Fisher said. Often, people who request open records — and are denied — do not follow through with the additional requirement that government agencies must cite the specific state law that exempts the record.
TCOG and the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel can help citizens navigate the process to get a record.
For journalists, generally more accustomed to requesting public records, the process can also become difficult. When that happens, Fisher encourages reporters to publicize the issue.
“Write about it,” Fisher said. “If there’s a public document not being released, and you’re on the platform to write about it, it’s a news story.”
Fisher said one type of agency — law enforcement — often uses a protection it has and broadens it to keep information away from the public. Rest of story here.