A local nonprofit group that relies on tax money for most of its budget is threatening County Commissioner Tim Boyd, who is walking on tiptoes while discussing the group’s big spending.
He should rather walk in his regular gait. The Tennessee open records law makes it clear that the confidentiality rule that the Convention & Visitors Bureau accuses Mr. Boyd of violating does not apply to him.
By David Tulis / Noogaradio 1240 AM 101.1 FM
The rules of confidentiality apply to the custodian of documents and data as against demands to see it by members of the public under the state’s open records act.
Attorney Philip B. Whitaker Jr. writes to county attorney Rheubin Taylor to complain about the people’s representative Mr. Boyd, saying in a March 30 one-page letter, “working papers, including records of an auditee and all records relating to the audit or investigation by the internal audit staff of the County Auditor, are confidential as a matter of Tennessee law.”
Mr. Boyd, he says, has “no right to release, and indeed had a duty not to release, to the public any information from the working papers not appearing in the audit reports themselves.” CVB, which spends millions of taxpayer dollars every year, accuses Mr. Boyd of “blatant violation of the statutory confidentiality” and its attorney vaguely warns the CVB “pursue the action necessary to protect our client’s interests.”
The arguments of Mr. Whittaker are a screen of smoke to bully Mr. Boyd, who has already let the genie out of the bottle with his review of audit papers of the group.
Mr. Boyd has done nothing wrong in revealing to John Wilson of Chattanoogan.com and other media outlets the two reams of photocopies from the organization’s inner workings. Dave Flessner at the Times Free Press does nothing wrong if he grabs the pile of papers and runs it through the office photocopier and writes about it.
Stop sign analogy
The confidentiality that Mr. Whittaker seeks to enforce cannot be enforced against Mr. Boyd, who has committed no criminal violation nor tort in going to the press.
The confidentially rule is like a stop sign at the end of a sidestreet entering onto a larger avenue. The stop sign applies to the person approaching the main road, the person on the smaller road nosing into the big wide thoroughfare. It does not apply to others. If I am on the main drag and turning into that sidestreet, the stop sign doesn’t apply to me, even though I can see it as I make the turn. It applies to the first traveler, not me. I am not in its purview, but the first motorist is.
Mr. Whitaker on Monday did not respond to two requests for an interview
Sources: TCA 10-7-503, TCA 10-7-505