Tennessee editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Johnson City Press on driving safely during the holidays:
Today (Nov.27) and Thursday many of you will join millions across the country on the highways in what traditionally is the busiest and most dangerous travel period of the year.
AAA estimates more than 55 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. That figure includes 1.3 million Tennesseans — 1.2 million of whom will be going by automobile.
That’s a lot of cars carrying a lot of precious cargo on our highways.
The National Safety Council reports that 385 people died on U.S. roads over the four-day holiday period in 2018. Thankfully, so to speak, that’s way down from a peak of 623 deaths in 2006. That’s still far too many losses at a time when we should be enjoying the blessings in our lives, not mourning loved ones.
The NSC has a grimly accurate history of projecting highway deaths each year within a margin of error. This year the estimate is 417, with a “90 percent confidence level” ranging from 374 to 463.
Please do your best not to be among that number.
The American Red Cross offers several tips you should consider before hitting the road, including making sure your car is in good condition for a road trip, sharing travel plans with a family member or friend, seeking alternative routes during inclement weather and avoiding such distractions as cell phones. You should also pack an emergency kit in your trunk and make frequent stops if traveling long distances.
And if you do have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible to avoid being hit by other vehicles.
No one expects to be an accident when embarking on a trip, but we all know the odds increase when there are so many people on the roads, which adds to the stress and distractions.
A well-rested driver is less likely to cause an accident, and keeping any road rage in check is a must.
You can only enjoy this Thanksgiving if your family is intact.
The Crossville Chronicle on giving thanks to staff and U.S. Postal Service workers:
As we pause this week to give thanks, the Crosssville Chronicle wishes to give thanks to you, our readers, advertisers, contributors, distributors and the mail carriers of the U.S. Postal Service.
Without you, we could not do what we do to keep our community informed and involved.
The Chronicle has enjoyed another great year, and we owe so much of that to our community. Cumberland County and Crossville are filled with people who care about their neighbors and helping one another.
We thank each of you for the trust you’ve shown our staff as you shared your stories for others to read and learn from or be inspired by. We look forward to sharing more stories in the coming year.
We are thankful for all of you who drop us a note or call with your kind words. You make the less-than-pleasant calls more bearable.
We also give thanks for the people who make up the Chronicle staff. We are a tight-knit group who have been known to finish each other’s sentences. Our staff includes people who have worked here for more than 40 years and folks with us only a few weeks, but they each play an important part in bringing you the news that matters to Cumberland County.
May you all have a happy and safe Thanksgiving!
The Knoxville News Sentinel on Gov. Lee’s call for open-government:
On his new transition website, Gov.-elect Bill Lee lists “open and responsive government” as a priority of his new administration.
“Bill will lead a complete overhaul of our open records and open meetings acts to make government more transparent to you,” his team promises.
This is welcome and timely news.
Tennessee’s Public Records Act was adopted in 1957 with broad language “so as to give the fullest possible public access to public records.” The Open Meetings Law came along in 1974, in the wake of Watergate, and court rulings upheld its broad impact.
The records law was updated a decade ago to make local governments more responsive, and recently all cities, counties, school districts and state agencies were required to establish transparency policies so citizens could know how to obtain the information they needed.
But at the same time, more and more information has been stamped “confidential.”
The original Public Records Act had only two exemptions. A study in 1988 found that number had grown to 89. Early this year, an audit by the Comptroller’s Office uncovered 538 exemptions, and the total has increased since then.
Laws now prevent the public from seeing investment records of public funds, performance evaluations of state employees, accreditation reports on public hospitals, tax information on subsidies for private companies, details of economic development deals that are deemed “proprietary,” audits of many public entities, the results of investigations by the TBI, and much more.
The courts have thrown a cloak of secrecy over many records, too.
Most troubling is a Supreme Court ruling that is being treated by many agencies as a blanket “investigative” exemption for local law enforcement. Some police and sheriff’s departments now refuse to disclose all records tied to any case they say is still under investigation. This includes initial incident reports showing that a complaint has been made or a crime committed.
Worse, this ruling has been used to hide records that were public previously.
For instance, the state attorney general insisted that travel records and phone logs of state employees — normally open — became confidential after a Nashville district attorney started investigating the former acting director of TBI.
Likewise, local governments in Sevier County stopped releasing all public records after the Gatlinburg fire because District Attorney General Jimmy Dunn said they could become part of his investigation into the cause of the fire.
Happily, the time is ripe for reform.
State Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, has long been a champion of transparency, and he returns to the legislature as lieutenant governor, the leader of the Senate.
Other lawmakers share his spirit. State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, and state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, sponsored legislation last session to invigorate the Advisory Committee on Open Government, an appointed body created to help resolve transparency issues. State Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, and state Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, have been energetically chairing an interim Open Records Ad Hoc Committee examining the proliferation of exemptions to the public records law.
Now the governor is throwing his weight behind the movement. That’s huge.
Open government isn’t a partisan issue. Conservatives and liberals alike know it is the key to accountability, and thus to good governance.
Nor is the issue anything new. Tennessee’s leaders recognized its importance when they included a provision in the state Constitution declaring: “the printing press shall be free to every person to examine the proceedings of the Legislature; or any branch or officer of the government, and no law shall ever be made to restrain the right thereof.”
But over time, pressure from special interests and fear of scrutiny has tended to erode good intentions.
Also, complex issues of privacy and security present many legitimate concerns in this digital age.
Overhauling Tennessee’s open meetings and open records laws won’t be an easy task. But it’s one that folks of good will, working together with the long-term interests of the citizenry in mind, can, and must, accomplish.
Thank you, Gov.-elect Lee, for making this a priority. Tennessee will be the better for it.