Friday, January 20, 2012

Knox County Commission Sunshine Law Violation?

Last night the South Knox Republican Club met and less than 12 people attended. Commissioner Mike Brown was present and made a statement to the group concerning the Hillside/Ridgetop Plan's "Briggs Amendment". A source at the meeting summarizes Commissioner Brown's statement as He (Brown) indicated that as we were supposed to be living in a kinder, gentler world the "Briggs Amendment" had been changed to reflect a kinder, gentler wording. The source asked if they change the wording as Brown indicated that it has been changed does it have to go back to MPC for approval AGAIN? This sounds like a deal has been cut, as we pointed out and asked here and here


Anonymous said...

Norman said there would be a surprise Monday. Monday at 8:00 am there is a special meeting with Norman and Briggs and the press. At the City County Bldg.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Tony Norman under a Judges order not to break the Sunshine law again?

Scott Barker said...

Some clarity about the sunshine law is called for here.

If commissioners give adequate public notice of a special meeting (such as the Broyles meetings at the Time Warp Tea Room), there is no sunshine law violation. I don't know if Norman and Briggs gave notice (those notices don't cross my desk anymore), but if they did, a violation is unlikely.

If commissioners do violate the sunshine law, the violation is eliminated or cured if during a subsequent, properly noticed meeting they hold open, legitimate deliberations on the matter. There would have been no sunshine law violations on Black Wednesday had commissioners debated the merits of the nominees for appointment in public that day.

The court's oversight of commission following the Black Wednesday lawsuit verdict last only one year. The threat of jail time for contempt as a result of new violations no longer exists.

Hope this helps.

Anonymous said...

Scott, the YouTube Brian posted

shows Norman admitting that he deliberated in several noticed public meetings .So what happens if Norman doesn't cure that today?

Why hasn't the Sentinel taken a stand about these Sunshine law violations from Norman? It is clear as day that Norman has violated this Sunshine law multiple times. Why are you so silent about Norman? This is much worse than Black Wednesday. And the Sentinel went to court over that. Can you explain what is going on at the Sentinel?

Scott Barker said...

If they were "noticed public meetings," then they weren't held in violation of the sunshine law. Sunshine law violations are the result of PRIVATE meetings that are NOT noticed.

Anonymous said...

Scott, Commissioners cannot deliberate even in noticed meetings if no quorum is present. And why isn't the Sentinel going to these noticed meetings? You didn't cover the meeting this morning. Or the other meetings where Norman violated the Sunshine law. You need to explain this. You are defending Norman and you are wrong about what you are claiming. Combine that with not covering the meetings and it looks bad.

Scott Barker said...

I don't read the law that way, but I'm willing to be persuaded that a quorum is necessary for deliberations to occur. Please cite a legal opinion on the matter.

I'm not defending Norman at all. I was just trying to clear up some misconceptions (such as Chancellor Fansler's time limit on jurisdiction over the commission). As I said, if you can cite a legal opinion I could be persuaded that I'm wrong about special meetings.

I don't cover meetings, nor do I direct the coverage of those who do. I suggest you ask Mike Donila about the meetings, since that's his beat.

Anonymous said...

I am surprised with your answer Scott. Didn't you cover the Fansler Sunshine trial? And aren't you Donila's superior? I think Donila has an obligation to cover these meetings. I would like to know why he isn't.

You can read the Sunshine law but this is easier:

If Norman doesn't cure his offenses tonight, then the Sentinel should bring him to task just like the Sentinel did on Black Wednesday.

Dave Wright just cured several meetings at 3:15. Now that you have what you asked for, can we expect the Sentinel do be consistent? Or are you only here to defend Norman? You should know this backwards and forwards from the Fansler trial.

Anonymous said...

Scott Barker,

"The court's oversight of commission following the Black Wednesday lawsuit verdict last only one year. The threat of jail time for contempt as a result of new violations no longer exists."

Read your own newspaper Bud, the Fansler injunction was permanent:

So will you write an editorial about Norman? He admitted he deliberated.

Scott Barker said...

A permanent injunction is the court's final ruling (as opposed to a temporary injunction, which is in place only until the final disposition of the case). The word "permanent" applies to the proceedings, not the length of time the injunction is in effect. The court's jurisdiction in the case lasted one year. Read the sunshine law. Read Fansler's ruling. Or you could just read the article to which you linked. Here's the relevant passage:

Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, said the permanent injunction apparently ended after one year, which was the length of time Fansler asserted jurisdiction over the case. Joe Jarret, the county's chief deputy law director, agreed.

"The injunction is permanent as long as the court maintains jurisdiction over the case," Jarret said. "Once the court terminates it, then the case is over. (Commissioners) have an ongoing obligation to follow the law. It doesn't give them license to do anything. Every commissioner is obligated to follow the Open Meetings law."

Anonymous said...


You had asked about a quorum and deliberation.

Even in a Sunshined publicly noticed meeting, if there is no quorum there can be no deliberation.

When are you going to write about this? Norman broke the Sunshine law for weeks. Why are you protecting him instead of doing what is right?

Scott Barker said...

I'm not protecting Norman. Don't care about him one way or the other.

The link you provided doesn't work, but I think I found the document anyway. Its only reference to a quorum is to say that two or more officials should comply with the law without regard to a quorum. It does not say that a quorum is required for deliberations to occur. MTAS has other summaries of case law that are better than the one you're using.

Any violation that might have occurred was cured by the open deliberations of county commission on Monday. Shoot, if commission had allowed public discussion of the appointee candidates on Black Wednesday there wouldn't have been any violations then, either. Seriously. The only leg we had to stand on during the lawsuit was that they did not allow debate about the appointments.

The sunshine law basically requires two things for a violation to stick - private deliberations and no open deliberations at a subsequent public meeting. Legally, you gotta have both.

On an aside, it would be great if you identified yourself. You'd gain a lot more credibility.

Anonymous said...


"Any violation that might have occurred was cured by the open deliberations of county commission on Monday."

Care to explain that? Norman didn't cure anything. He never mentioned that he deliberated with Briggs, Shouse, Brown, Wright, and others.

How was there a cure?

Scott Barker said...

First of all, I'm not sure there was anything to cure. But I'll indulge you for the purposes of this discussion. Let's say that there was a sunshine law violation.

It was cured by commission. Norman didn't cure anything by himself. The entire commission cured it by holding open deliberations on Monday.

Basically, there are two parts to a potential violation. First, there must be private deliberations. Second, there is an opportunity to fix it at a public meeting. You have to have both - private deliberations and a public meeting where no open deliberation takes place prior to a vote.

If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the sunshine law.

Anonymous said...

"It was cured by commission. Norman didn't cure anything by himself. The entire commission cured it by holding open deliberations on Monday."

That is wrong. According to that there would never be a Sunshine law violation. Why are you defending Norman rather than doing your job? Or, is your job to defend Norman?

Scott Barker said...

Believe what you will, but sunshine law violations can be cured. Sorry, dude. It's easy to get out of a sunshine law violation, which made Black Wednesday so puzzling. The commissioners at the time could have avoided the lawsuit so easily.

I don't care about Norman one way or the other, and I'm certainly not defending him. The facts are what they are.