Tennessee editorial roundup

June 27, 2019 GMT

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


June 26

Cleveland Daily Banner on helping a local office complete a project:

If history teaches us anything, it is this: When it’s gone, it’s gone ... and without proper commemoration it is likely to be forgotten by future generations who lack the adequate resources to understand its significance.

In other words, anything not taught today could be forgotten tomorrow.

Such reality speaks to the importance of an endearing project being undertaken by the Bradley County Trustee’s Office. Near the entrance to its freestanding operation at 1701 Keith St., the local county office is working to assemble a “Wall of Honor” in tribute to all 36 men who served as trustee here since Bradley County’s establishment in 1836.


On the wall, Trustee Mike Smith and his civic-minded staff want to mount framed photographs of each — or, at least as many as possible — of the government leaders who coordinated the trustee functions over the course of Bradley County’s life as a government jurisdiction. Names, and years in office, will be included.

On paper, it is a noble concept.

By the book, it is an exhaustive process filled with research and outreach. Obviously, the department’s staff can do only so much on their own. That’s why the public’s help has been sought since April, especially local — or out-of-town — residents who are descendants of any past trustee officeholders.

It is hoped families or friends can supply old photographs of their loved ones, especially those who served in the 1800s and early 1900s, an era when there simply weren’t as many “Kodak moments” as in later years of modern government.

Smith worded it best himself in comments to the Cleveland Daily Banner when he described trustees in those early years as being “camera shy.” It’s another way of saying old black-and-white photographs are hard to come by, if at all.

To date, pictures of 18 of the 36 have been found ... whether through research or from family descendants who have made the photos available. The oldest image discovered so far has been that of William H. Tibbs who served as trustee from 1844 to 1848.

But half the bunch remains aloof.

For those interested in helping the Trustee’s Office with its thoughtful initiative, here’s a list of past trustee photographs still needed. Included are their years of service:

—James Lauderdale (1836-1838)

—Elijah “Eli” King (1838-1840)


—John Wood (1840-1842)

—John H. Payne (1842)

—John M. Raper (1842-1844)

—James H. Hawkins (1848-1854)

—James H. Norman (1860-1865)

—John F. Hayes (1865-1871)

—J.W. Glass (1874-1876)

—J.A. Denton (1882-1884)

—Alexander Campbell (1898-1902)

—Levi Trewhitt (1902-1906)

—J.A. Johnston (1906-1910)

—J.H. Smith (1910-1912)

—C.W. Allen (1912-1914)

—Walter Kile (1920-1924)

—W.M. Nichol (1928-1932)

—G.W. Weaver (1936-1940)

“Hopefully, by providing this update of past trustees whose photographs we still haven’t found, it will stir families in and outside our community to look through some of their own hidden treasures at home,” Smith said.

Such “hidden treasures” are everywhere: Dust-covered shoeboxes in the back corner of a closet, scrapbooks, photo albums, trunks, the top shelves of cluttered utility rooms, family Bibles, diaries, journals, the very back of the bottom drawer of a seldom-opened file cabinet, rarely visited attics and dark basements.

To Smith’s point, it has been — and still is —a fun project. But finding history can be fatiguing, if not sometimes frustrating.

And that returns us to the point: Anything anybody can do to help the Trustee’s Office complete this complex project will be much appreciated. For those with information to share, please contact the Trustee’s Office at 423-728-7247.

Or, just drop by with your photos in hand. Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The Trustee’s Office is located in the former SouthEast Bank building at the corner of 17th and Keith streets. Exterior signage marks the spot.

“We have received a lot of interest from family members both here in town, and from out of town, as well,” Smith said. “While we are certainly thankful to have located many photographs, we would love to have more if they exist.”

His final three words tell the tale: ”...If they exist.”

Most probably do. It’s just a matter of getting the message out, and getting it to the right people.

We hope local families can help. For years, Smith’s staff and the Trustee’s Office have served as a friend to this community.

By spreading the word, or looking through our own long-forgotten spaces, maybe we can return that friendship.

Online: http://clevelandbanner.com


June 22

The Daily Times on a bill that would make 911 records private:

A bill that got mired in this year’s session of the state General Assembly could be resurrected next year and would make emergency 911 calls secret. It’s horrible legislation and would remove a major tool from journalists who bring transparency and accountability to first responders.

State Rep. Rick Tillis, R-Lewisburg, is the author of HB0335. A former emergency medical technician, he was motivated by privacy concerns of those who call 911 during some of the worst times of their lives.

But when asked by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government to name one instance where the news media has been abusive with 911 records, which currently are open to the public, Tillis had no answer, says TCOG Executive Director Deborah Fisher.

“It’s fixing a problem that hasn’t shown up in Tennessee,” Fisher said in a telephone interview. “The main thing I tried to get across to legislators is that 911 calls are important in reporting on public-interest things.”

For example, without 911 tapes, we never would have known how the Gatlinburg wildfire outran firefighters and overwhelmed first responders. Reporting by the Knoxville News Sentinel on the fire found hydrant failures and lack of water; dispatcher confusion, including residents ordered to stay put instead of to flee the fire; the chaotic evacuation routes; and the failure to get downtown Gatlinburg sirens activated.

Former News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy noted in a column that 911 systems are funded by a tax added to cellphone bills; the records produced by those calls are critical public records that hold emergency responders accountable — for poor response times, errant routing of resources and accidents caused by law enforcement vehicles, among many other things.

The proposed legislation, and its companion SB0386, would designate that all 911 calls, recordings and transmissions as confidential except for certain purposes or unless a recorded caller consented to the release of such records. As if any caller would ever do that.

Tillis’ bill is another attack on government and law enforcement transparency. Could it be that Tillis is responding to an acquaintance possibly embarrassed when a 911 call was revealed? Yet one person’s privacy should not negate the community’s need and right to know what’s going on with tax-funded agencies.

HB0335 was taken off notice for the calendar in the Public Service & Employees Subcommittee on March 27, effectively killing it, although Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, concedes the bill could rear its ugly head during the next session. SB0386, meanwhile, was assigned on April 8 to the General Subcommittee of the Senate State & Local Government Committee.

Both bills should die on the vine.

“I would err on the side of the media ... because it would jeopardize transparency of law enforcement and first responders,” Ramsey said. “Transparency, in my opinion, on oversight of first responders outweighs inappropriate disclosures” that could embarrass citizens.

Rep. Jerome Moon, R-Maryville, the former publisher of The Daily Times, understandably opposes the legislation and says “that bill’s going nowhere. Those records have got to be left open.” Otherwise, he said by way of example, the media could never learn about the problem of myriad false 911 calls and then report on them.

State Sen. Art Swann, R-Alcoa, agreed the bill is “not going anywhere” and said he could only support it in extremely limited circumstances.

We applaud all three members of our local legislative delegation and urge them to remain steadfast against any further erosion of Tennessee’s public records laws, which already are considered weak by other states’ standards. In fact, the number of public records exemptions in Tennessee reached 583 after this past legislative session.

Lawmakers who exempt public records are hiding something. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

Online: https://www.thedailytimes.com


June 25

Johnson City Press on legislation to make health care costs more transparent:

Anyone who’s been to a doctor, clinic or hospital knows that what you see is rarely what you get when it comes to costs.

Most often, listed charges are not what you actually pay, since health insurance companies negotiate their own prices with providers. Pricing is a maddening game of chess between providers, insurance companies and the federal government.

Just when you think your copay or that estimate you paid at admitting had you covered, you’ll receive a different bill — often more than one.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of medical billing is the number of bills you’ll receive for one procedure — the clinic, the provider, the lab, the radiologist, the anesthesiologist and the anesthesiologist’s second cousin once removed on his stepmother’s side all seem to have their hands out.

Weeks — sometimes months — afterward you may get another bill you never saw coming.

The political struggles around health care, though, largely have centered around how to pay for it and how to broaden insurance coverage for low-income patients. Rarely have we heard much about real measures to control costs and at least make billing more transparent. As Staff Writer Brandon Paykamian Paykamian reported ... bipartisan efforts are underway in Congress to change that.

In May, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, a former Johnson City mayor and local physician, co-sponsored the Protecting People from Surprise Medical Bills Act to “protect patients from unfair and expensive surprise medical bills.” ... Senate Health Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-Wash., introduced the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019, which aims to tame health care costs and surprise medical billing.

Alexander said the Senate bill would reduce what Americans pay out of pocket for health care in three ways: end surprise billing; create more transparency; and increase prescription drug competition to help bring more lower-cost generic and bio-similar drugs to patients.

Citing her own experiences with surprise billing related to a motorcycle crash six years ago, Washington County Democratic Party Chairperson Kate Craig applauded the effort, telling Paykamian it was “long overdue.”

That’s putting it mildly. Health care costs are truly a strain on Americans’ solvency. As Alexander put it, “you can’t lower your health care costs until you know what your health care actually costs.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports he average American household spent $4,928 on health care in 2017. This represents 8 percent of the total average household expenditure of $60,060.

And Alexander cited testimony from Dr. Brent James stating that half of what Americans spend on health care is unnecessary. “That would mean that up to half of the $3.5 trillion the United States collectively spent on health care in 2017 was unnecessary,” the senator said.

It will be interesting to see how Big Pharma, Big Health Care and Big Insurance react to Alexander and Murray’s salvo, especially that $1.75 trillion estimate on unnecessary spending.

While transparency alone won’t fix spiraling costs, it would certainly arm Americans with information they need in planning, budgeting and coping with medical emergencies.

The Senate bill is scheduled for a vote in Alexander’s committee.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com