published Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

Chattanooga City Council lectured on open meetings rules


The Office of Open Records Counsel, located within the Comptroller of the Treasury, serves “as the contact for concerns on access to local government public records under the Tennessee Public Records Act (Tenn. Code Ann. Sections 10-7-501 et seq.). The Office assists in obtaining public records from local government, both in guiding citizens to correct offices/officials and in working to resolve disputes regarding access to public records. The Office “promotes education and awareness of the Tennessee public records and open meetings laws through direct outreach and through coordination with existing organizations,” according to its website.

For more information, contact attorney Elisha Hodge at 615-401-7891, toll free 866-831-3750 or visit the website at


• Next week, City Council members are expected to discuss Mayor Andy Berke’s recommendation that Fred Fletcher from Austin, Texas, be hired as the city’s new police chief.

A state attorney lectured Chattanooga City Council members Tuesday on Tennessee’s open meetings rules after the council violated the law.

Last week, the council twice ejected a reporter from a meeting to discuss the city’s $24 million streetlight replacement program, claiming the discussion on the hot-button issue should remain closed to the public.

Officials contradicted each other on reasons why the gathering was in private, first saying the meeting was protected by attorney-client privilege, then saying it was closed to discuss an audit.

Council Chairman Chip Henderson said he didn’t purposefully hold a closed meeting to discuss the Global Green Lighting audit. He apologized for the mistake.

Henderson said later he thought he was acting within the law after the city attorney’s office advised him that he could have the meeting in private. That information turned out to be incorrect, said Elisha Hodge, the attorney with the Office of Open Records Counsel in the state comptroller’s office.

Hodge said the only time council members can have a closed session to talk about an audit is in the middle of such a review, and not after the audit has been released as a type of exit interview.

The only other option under which officials could have closed the session to the public was if the meeting was merely an information session called to hear about the audit. In this case, council members may not ask questions or debate the issue, Hodge said.

After publication of a report on the closed meeting, city officials changed their story a second time, claiming that the meeting had been an information session.

The City Council will meet publicly next Tuesday to discuss City Auditor Stan Sewell’s audit of the city’s streetlight replacement program.

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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