THE HUNTER REPORT
Secrecy vs Transparency
Mushrooms & taxpayers - keep them in the dark & feed them BS or HS
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Keeping the Public in the Dark
By: Pat Hunter
Three years ago, the Budget Committee comprised of Budget Chairman Mayor Doyle Arp and Commissioners Nancy Marcus, Bob Franke, Don Miller and Chris Park, recommended initially spending $50,000 for a new county Information Technology (IT) department. The county IT department would provide computer and tech support to all county departments. And the IT Department was also supposed to provide financial and other information on the county gov website. Previously, the county contracted with two employees with the board of education to provide computer and technical support until the county terminated IT service with the board of education.
This years budget was placed on the county website but then removed with no explanation. Currently, the IT department will post commission workshop and meeting agendas and minutes after commission approval.
Commissioners receive a packet of information before meetings but this information could very easily be posted on the county gov website but is not! The packet information is usually created using Excel and a word processor. Scanning documents once is easier than making duplicate copies. Or better yet, using the overhead projector and a laptop allows everyone to see the material that commissioners are discussing at public meetings but Commissioners don't do that either.
Not every government entity is like county commission. There are some government entities that believe in the publics right to know. Lenoir City Treasurer-Recorder Bobby Johnson Jr. prepares copies of all council paperwork and budgets so citizens in the audience attending public meetings may get what they wish. Bobby Johnson, Jr. is also very courteous and prompt when it comes to public records requests. The Loudon County Board of Education and school board provide packets of information for citizens who want to know about school finances and procedures. Central office personnel are courteous and professional.
The IT director answers to Mayor Doyle Arp and that's the way the Budget Committee set it up and Commission rubber stamped it . The Mayor originally said that he eventually planned to put financial and other information on the world-wide-web, but Mayor Arp has fallen short on his word.
This is the same commissioners that continue to back Mayor Arp's public records policy.
I'd like to remind Commissioners Franke, Miller, Park and Marcus what was said at the budget committee when they agreed with the Mayor and they recommended funding the IT Dept. It went something like this... Trying to get the records-a better system of getting the information on the internet. If we had an IT person or department and be like Blount County ....down the road for people that want all the information, put it on the internet. Exactly commented Commissioner Nancy Marcus.
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Some of our commissioners may talk a good game that they believe in transparency, open records and having as much information on the internet but their actions speak louder than words!
High Tech Chat Rooms for Commissioners
By: Pat Hunter
At Monday�s March 15th commission workshop meeting, IT Director Steve Fritts is expected to demonstrate the on-line chat room for the exclusive use of the ten county commissioners.
While the public waits and waits for financial information and complete packet information to be posted on the county gov website, it appears that it�s full steam ahead for commissioners and their high tech chat room, compliments of Loudon County taxpayers. At least 3 commissioners were bought laptops with taxpayer funds, which are not used in public.
At the July 20, 2009 Commission workshop meeting, Tellico Village Commissioner Don Miller made his pitch for an on-line chat room on the Loudon County gov website. Commissioner Miller writes his own column in the Village Connection- News Herald and he has a TV show on community Tellico Village TV-3. The IT's current budget is now at $75,000 and growing.
Commissioner Miller spoke about the on-line chat room electronic media board as an opportunity for commissioners to exchange information. He spoke about the Open Meetings law and transparency. The information could be accessed by the public at public libraries if they didn�t own a computer. He thought that commissioners not being able to communicate with one another also led to less efficiency and the quality of decisions not being so good. The public can access this information day or night, Miller said. The messages could not be changed, the messages would be available 24 hours, 7 days, and would be archived for 1 year by the IT director. The IT Department would provide technical assistance for the on-line chat room.
The State Legislature changed the Open Meetings law to allow officials to communicate with one another using an on-line chat room provided that they talk to one another in open. The Sunshine law prohibits two or more officials from talking and deliberating toward a decision, which will affect the public.
If the public wants to know what is happening, the public would have to attend a workshop or commission meeting, and this gives them additional information to easily get, Commissioner Don Miller commented.
Miller recommended adopting the on-line chat room forum. He said that it was easy to do since the software was available at no cost; Knox County had developed the software. The county had ample computer storage capacity available and no additional cost except for IT Director Steve Fritts time. He spoke about an intern assistant working with Fritts. The chat room would be available for the ten commissioners but the public could not participate with the on-line discussion. His recommendation was met with favorable Commission approval but was subject to the submittal and approval of a plan that met specific criteria to the Tennessee Office of Open Records.
I am very disappointed in Commissioner Don Miller. He can talk about transparency and giving the public additional information and the publics right to stay informed when it seems to suit him!