No agenda no issue, says TPA attorney

Published 9:14am Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Contrary to claims that brought the Historic Zoning Commission’s meeting to a halt Monday night, a published agenda is not a requirement of the Tennessee Sunshine Law.
“A published agenda is not required by the Tennessee Sunshine Law,” said attorney Richard Hollow, legal counsel for the Tennessee Press Association.
During the commission meeting Monday, Elizabethton resident Tom Cowan accused the group of holding an illegal meeting because the agenda was not published in the ad that notified the public about the meeting.
Cowan maintained, that without the agenda, the public would not be aware of what was happening in the meeting, so adequate notice was not actually being given. He also said numerous court decisions agreed with that.
During the meeting, city attorney Roger Day advised the commission to publish its agendas as a practice of due diligence and to alert the public of business to be conducted during the meeting.
To double-check what exactly was required by the Sunshine Law, the Elizabethton Star contacted Hollow for his interpretation.
Hollow said the only time the content of the meeting is required to be in a legal notice for a meeting was for a special called meeting, and even then the full agenda was not required.
He said the Tennessee Court of Appeals, in an unpublished decision, gave the opinion that government bodies were required to give adequate notice and to inform the public what topics would be covered in a called meeting. However, that designation does not extend to regularly scheduled meetings.
“There is no such regulation and there never has been a regulation for a regular scheduled meeting to publish an agenda,” Hollow said. “Nothing in the (open records) act or in subsequent (court) decisions requires a published agenda.”
Historic Zoning Commission chair Sarah Baker said the Municipal Technical Advisory Service’s opinion was that as long as copies of the agenda were available for the public before the meeting then the law had been met.
She added the commission would continue to follow the city attorney’s advice and publish an agenda with the meeting announcement.
“It is better to cross all the Ts and be safe, so we are going to follow the city attorney’s advice,” Baker said.

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