Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Groups Decry Claims on Audibility of Public Meetings

By Walter F. Roche Jr.

Two groups are charging  that a claim made in a pending lawsuit would make a mockery of the state Open Meeting Law.
The statement issued Wednesday by the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the East Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists came in response to a claim in a pending lawsuit that citizens attending a public meeting don't have a right to hear the proceedings.
That claim was made in a recent filing by attorneys for US Nitrogen and the Industrial Development Board of Greeneville and Greene County.
In the filing the board and the private firm charged that the law is silent on the issue of audibility.
In the statement issued Wednesday, the two organizations cited a section of the state Sunshine Law which states, "Each part of a meeting required to be open shall be audible to the public at the location specified in the notice of meeting."
The audibility issue arose at a July 18 meeting of the IDB when a resident, who was later arrested, was escorted from the session after complaining that the testimony could not be heard.
The charges against that resident were later dropped.
"The law makes clear that efforts to circumvent the Tennessee Open Meetings Law will not be tolerated," the statement reads, adding that the claim asserted by the IDB "would make a mockery" of state law.
The audibility dispute arose in one of several legal challenges to a US Nitrogen plan to build a 12 mile pipeline from its new manufacturing facility to the Nolichucky River. The pipelines would draw millions of gallons of water a day from the river for cooling purposes and then return them to the river.

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