A Government That is Transparent, Accountable and Works for the 99% (aka You Know We SHOULD Be Able to See You, Right?)

February 28, 2012 by  
Filed under Ethics in Governmet, Recent Blog Posts

Magnifying GlassIn a political climate such as ours where money equals speech and large corporations and their CEOs can literally buy all the access to our elected officials that they want, our government should be more accountable to the 99%, than ever before. Our government institutions should be made more transparent and accountable to the people – not less.  But, no. Just the opposite is happening.

On Sunday, the Tennessean published a editorial with this headline: “Public is shut out of state business, Access to your information is tightening.” Below is an excerpt:

Yes, even though the governor on his first day in office in January 2011 stated that “the rule should be, the more you can be in the open, the better,” in numerous ways the administration is moving to reduce transparency in state government.

It isn’t that Tennesseans were not warned. On the same day as the governor made that statement, he signed an executive order eliminating requirements for him and top aides to disclose how much they earn in outside income.

…In the intervening months, here is what the Haslam administration has done with that chance:

Given verbal support to efforts to charge fees to anyone who makes a request for public records, even though state law guarantees the right to public records…

Sought to close records used to make economic-development grant decisions, even to the extent of letting prospective clients for state business conceal ownership…

Would seal state workers’ performance evaluations….

Supported legislation to end the requirement that government notices be advertised in Tennessee newspapers….

And, in the latest misstep, the administration may have violated the state’s Open Meetings Act….

All of the above presents a disturbing pattern. At best, it could signal a lack of understanding of government’s role. At worst, Tennesseans could be looking at a return to the type of government they put a stop to decades ago.  Read more…

In addition to the Governor’s secrecy bender, his Republican allies in the House and Senate have introduced their own gems. HB3281 would remove that prohibition along with deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election. HB2385 would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers. SB2249 would allow the governor to appoint the executive directors of some key state agencies that work with moving our state forward on behalf of the 99%.

TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUTABILITY BILL UPDATE

SB 2207 / HB 2345
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)
Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer cash incentives to large corporations in secret and without any kind of accountability. SB2207 adds due diligence materials (which include “organization structure and ownership” to the list of documents and records that are to remain confidential within the Department of Economic and Community Development.

Re-referred to Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture from the Senate Floor on 02/23/2012. Not scheduled in this committee yet. House floor vote deferred until Thursday, 3/01/12, at 9:00 am.

  • Joe White reports for WPLN, that the bill “flew out of a House committee unquestioned after Representative Kevin Brooks (R) argued the procedure would make government more efficient in evaluating grantapplications:At the very same time we’re protecting corporate privacy, which they, in the industry, have said to us is important.’Ah, yes, “they.” As in “they” who are undoubtedly more important to Rep. Brooks than the people and their right to know what their government is up to and how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.
  • The City Paper had a  jaw-dropping exchange with Governor Haslam about the bill where he states that the people don’t have to know “whose crony is getting the money” because “we [his administration] would know.”
  • After a very vocal display of disbelief by Sen. Roy Herron (D) (“…the idea that we’re going to make the records secret where you cannot find, anytime in the future, who the owners were that somebody gave taxpayer dollars to is breathtaking….) and additional concern expressed by Sen. Bo Watson (R) (“…all of the members are interested in making sure that the public gets the necessary information that it needs….We are trying to bring more light to the process..”), a full Senate vote on the bill was delayed last Thursday. The companion House bill was also delayed for a week.

HB 3281 / SB 3645
SPONSORS: Rep. Debra Maggart (R); Sen. Bo Watson (R), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), Sen. Bill Ketron (R)
Removes the prohibition on insurance companies to make campaign contributions, along with removing PAC aggregate limitation on candidates and deleting the requirement on certain large contributions made within 10 days of election.

HB3281 is more secrecy and more prioritization of corporate campaign contributors against the 99%. Doesn’t look like “Is it good for the people of the state?” to us. It is, in fact, extraordinarily self-serving legislation.

 This bill will be heard in the  Senate State & Local Government Committee on Tuesday, 2/28, at 10:30 pm, Room 12. Referred to House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government but not scheduled yet.

SB 2247 / HB 2385
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)
Would allow the governor to appoint the executive director of the which deals only with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority, which oversees everything from natural gas companies to suburban sewer systems and phone calls by telemarketers.

Referred to Senate Government Operations and House General Subcommittee of State & Local Government but not scheduled yet.

SB 2249 / HB 2387
SPONSORS: Sen. Mark Norris (R), Rep. Gerald McCormick (R)
Would allow the governor to appoint executive directors the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC), the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Arts Commission and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth,  taking that authority away from the boards themselves.

Referred to Senate Government Operations but not scheduled yet. Set for House Government Operations Committee on Wednesday, 2/29/12, 2:00 pm, in Room 30.

HB 3795 / SB 3430
SPONSORS: Sen. Mike Bell (R), Rep. Jim Cobb (R)
Would remove printed public notice of legislative public hearings to review the performance of state agencies and post them to the state websites only.

This one was flagged by our friends at the League of Women Voters Tennessee: “A major concern is that placing these notices on state government websites will effectively bury any word of upcoming public hearings.” The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government highlights two of the problems: 1) Moving notices to the internet leaves out sizeable segments of the population, particularly seniors, rural residents, and others who do not own or use computers, and 2) While only 29% of households in a 2011 statewide survey reported interacting with government websites or elected officials on the internet, 70% of adults regularly read newspapers.

The House State & Local Govt Subcommittee voted to full committee this week. The bill is now scheduled to be heard in the House State & Local Government on Tuesday, 2/28, at 1:30pm in LP 16.

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