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Friday, May 6, 2016

Commission vote shows lack of respect

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Despite what County Commissioner Joe Tillett accuses, the Times-Gazette news staff doesn't sit around the newsroom debating which stories will "sell more newspapers and sell more advertising."

We don't base story selection on potential profits.

Our news department's mission is to inform. We let other departments in the newspaper worry about the income. If we do our jobs well, the money part will take care of itself.

Tillett's comments at that meeting have to be some of the most disappointing ever uttered by an elected official in Bedford County.

And the 17-1 vote against it has to be, collectively, one of the most ignorant decisions ever made locally.

That's right. Ignorant. The word can be defined as "unlightened," which is what all of us are if we aren't privy to the reasoning and discussions behind decisions.

Keep in mind that virtually all commission decisions involve spending taxpayers' money -- that's your money, NOT theirs -- on taxpayers' behalf -- your behalf.

The vote shows a lack of respect for the public. Think of it as a symbolic slap in the mouth and order to "Shut up and don't ask questions -- you don't need to know."

The commissioners' lame excuses are based on a Tennessee County Services Association newsletter claiming individuals could harass lawmakers through nuisance lawsuits.

The Tennessee Press Association and Tennessee Coalition of Open Government rightfully say that interpretation's absurd and extreme.

Unfortunately, the commission simply followed a sad trend. We're seeing so many cases, both in government and business, where ridiculous scenarios are described and, in some cases, the English language is being badly mangled in an attempt to present something untenable as attractive and manipulate the public. At least Tillett was straightforward.

If the bill's flawed, just rewrite it slightly -- emphasis on slightly -- so that chance encounters, such as two friends talking at church or sharing lunch won't bring on lawsuits. But the bill needs to be passed.

Officials are elected by the people to represent the people -- not dictate to them. County commissioners need a few civics lessons, and quickly.

Your right to know is under attack from other sources besides the county commission.

State Sen. Jim Bryson (R-Franklin) has proposed a bill defining accident reports as "confidential and not open for public inspection." An unsuccessful 1990s attempt to close accident records was allegedly due to such persons as attorneys and insurance companies making unwanted solicitations to accident victims.

Even if 1,000 or more people drive by a wreck -- and that's a realistic, maybe even low, number for one on a major thoroughfare -- no one's supposed to know who was involved?

Even if an irresponsible drunk takes the lives of innocent people, we're supposed to know the name of the defendant (obtainable from court records) but not the name(s) of the victims?

And is the news media supposed to rely on word-of-mouth without official documents to verify truthfulness?

The solution is simple. Make sure the media, which can responsibly report the facts, retains the right to the information.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer. Responses welcome: dmelson@t-g.com

David Melson
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