Friday, March 6, 2015

In Tennessee the right to inspect public records is about to be taken away. State legislature to make "Open Records" meaningless.

There is not much that people across the political spectrum agree on but there is one issue that should equally concern Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, libertarians, and progressives and that is that government should be transparent. Citizens should be able to know what their government is doing. Deals should not be struck in secret meetings in back rooms and citizens should have a right to have access to public records.

Transparency in government has always been important but with newspapers disappearing and shrinking and having fewer investigative reporters, it is going to be more and more the responsibility of citizens to keep tabs on their government. That is hard to do if one cannot not know what the government is doing.

In Tennessee the right to inspect public records is about to be taken away. There is a bill pending in the State legislature that would so cripple the open records law so as to make it meaningless. Under this proposed legislation, the agency of which one is requesting to inspect records will be allowed to set the fee for the cost of you inspecting their records.

I am going to immediately write my state representative and senator and ask them to oppose this bill. I am also going to write Senator Tracy and ask him to withdraw the bill.  This bills has been assigned to the Senate State and Local Government committee.  I am going to write the members of that committee and ask them to defeat the bill. You can follow this link and find out who is on the committee and write the members of that committee and urge them to defeat this bill.  The bill needs to be killed in committee. You can track the bill at this link.

Ken Jakes is a citizen activist who has exposed government waste and corruption time after time. Below is a copy of  an email I received from Ken in which he asked me to contact my state legislator about the issue. Also is a copy of the letter he sent to senators and representatives. His letter explains more fully why this is so important.  Please join me in taking a stand for continued government transparency. Rod

From Ken Jakes:

Below is an email I sent to all members of the Senate and House Committees. Yes it did take a moment of time to post and paste to each member, however in committee is where it needs to die. This bill does not need to make it to the floor. Our time we volunteer is our strongest asset. Are you willing to donate a moment of your time for LIBERTY?

Dear Senator and Representative,

I ask that if you believe that Tennessee should have open government and full transparency to the people, to help me take action to preserve the right for full disclosure of public records with no restrictions placed for inspection of any and all documents deemed to be a public record.

Senator Jim Tracy of Shelbyville and Representative Steve McDaniel of Crossroads are sponsors of Senate Bill 328 and House Bill 315. The current law under TCA 10-7-503, The Tennessee Public Records Act, affords to any resident of Tennessee who wishes to make a physical inspection of public records, the right to do so at no charge. This new legislation would allow, after the first hour of labor, a government entity to charge for the time it takes to produce the record.

Our liberty and freedom of holding elected and government officials accountable will soon die. The citizens must have a right to inspect and review the peoples documents at no charge. Otherwise, when the media and citizens activist groups investigate sensitive matters the government entity could place such an exorbitant fee and it could be used as a method to block access. Keep in mind the government entity is the official time keeper. Who is to say other than them that it took five minutes or five hours to provide a public record for inspection?

I personally took more then a year as a citizen investigating Nashville Electric Service. I gained nothing from this other then exposing corruption, waste and abuse as a citizen activist. Without the Tennessee Public Record Act as a tool to use in collecting data it would have failed as an investigation. Please review this link...  This is a summary of some of the findings of the State Of Tennessee Comptroller Office. My research of public records made available for my inspection and review by the current law, The Tennessee Public Record Act, resulted in these findings:

  • An invoice for Gaylord of more then $ 71,000.00 dollars was swapped out by a contract giving lavish gifts to include golf passes, dinner and show tickets, free parking, free hotel rooms, along with other gifts provided in exchange for payment for the upper brass at NES. 
  • Illegal awarding of sole source contracts by NES. 
  • Purchases made by employees of NES on NES credit cards at Babies R us, Amazon, and EBAY. 
  • NES credit card issued to a non-employee of NES. 
The report contains a brief summary of the findings uncovered by the citizens having the right to physically inspect records at no charge. The citizens are not getting a free ride because they are required to make a personal appearance rather then just ask for copies or duplication. They have travel expense, sometimes parking expense, and most of all spend hours of their time researching through public documents. ( How much is your time worth? ) I am posting the link below from A Disgruntled Republican to verify my part in this investigation. Channel 5 has since removed their post but this will document that a citizen or citizen activist group can make a difference.

Please do not take away the only tool that citizens have to hold elected and government officials accountable.

Sincerely, Ken Jakes

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