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Comptroller to hold free open records training

Claiborne county residents have had several opportunities of late to get involved with local politics. The recent defeat of the referendum to enact the Home Rule Charter government is just one of several examples of interest to John Q. Public.

The Office of Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson is in the process of placing the finishing touches on a training program that is open to anyone interested in learning more about the state’s public records and open meetings laws.

The Office of Open Records will be conducting three 2-hour virtual training seminars in October. The sessions are open not only to government employees and elected officials, but also to the various media outlets and the public.

Open Records counsel Lee Pope and assistant general counsel Rachel Buckley will lead each class through a variety of topics that will include public records laws and procedures, open meetings requirements and exceptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act.

Although geared for anyone interested in the topic, the classes will also provide qualifying training credits to utility commissioners and municipal or county finance officers.

The two-hour seminars will be held on Oct. 8, Oct. 16 and Oct. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. eastern time.

To RSVP, send an email to: open.records@cot.tn.gov for access information.

For additional information about the Office of Open Records Counsel and other related resources, visit: www.comptroller.tn.gov/openrecords.

According to the website, there is no central repository for public records in Tennessee. The Office of Open Records Counsel is not a clearinghouse.

A public record request must be submitted to the specific governmental entity or entities believed to be the records custodian. Each entity subject to the Tennessee Public Records Act is required to have its own policy in place for handling requests for a public record.

Depending on the office, you may be required to submit your request in writing or on a specific form. You could be required to present a government- issued identification as well.

The Act grants all state citizens the right to access state, county or municipal public records.

According to T.C.A. 10-7-503 (a)(1)(A)(i), these public records are defined as “all documents, papers, letters, maps, books, photographs, microfilms, electronic data processing files and output, films, sound recordings or other material regardless of physical form or characteristics made or received according to law or ordinance or in connection with the transaction of official business by any governmental entity.”

According to statute, requests and retrieval of records can be done either in person or by mail.

According to T.C.A. 8-44-105, governmental entities that have been found to have violated the Tennessee Open Meetings Act must include the court’s findings with the meeting minutes. The entity is also required to file semi-annual reports for one year while under the court’s jurisdiction.

The Act requires notices be made public for every meeting. However, it does not specifically require notice of the meeting agenda. Specially called meetings may require more content in the notice depending on the importance of the subject matter.

The Tennessee Open Meetings Act does not specifically define adequate public notice. State courts have determined, however, that adequate public notice is sufficient notice under the circumstances that would fairly inform the public of the meeting, as set in the court case Memphis Publishing Co. v. City of Memphis (1974).