TN museum staff ‘off the deep end’ in blocking access to public records?

A Tennessee State Museum staffer snatched an agenda packet for Monday’s meeting of the museum’s governing board from a reporter’s hand and declared she would have to file a formal open records request to see one, according to the Nashville Scene.

The reporter was Cari Wade Gervin, who (after the episode) penned an article on the Douglas Henry State Museum Commission’s vote at the Monday meeting to adopt a new code of ethics that former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe,  a member of the board who was absent at the session, labeled “a gag order.” It puts new restrictions on commission members speaking publicly about museum operations. (Previous post HERE.)

Excerpt from the Scene’s report (under a headline declaring, ‘State Museum staff hiding records from public’):

Gervin went to pick up a meeting agenda packet and was informed that she would have to file a written open records request with the Attorney General’s office to see one. When she tried to take a picture of one, it was grabbed out of her hand by Mary Skinner, the museum’s media relations officer. When House Speaker Beth Harwell, a commission member, gave Gervin her copy, museum staff attempted to take that one, too.

To be clear: A state employee attempted to stop a member of the press from reading a public record that should be made readily available to the public. This is actually against the law.

… “It looks like it’s an intentional attempt to keep information from the public,” says Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “This commission has gone off the deep end.”

Note: Ashe is also a member of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government board of directors. He says notice of the proposal to adopt a new code of ethics was not sent to museum commission members (via email) until 1 a.m. on Sunday morning, when the meeting was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday.

UPDATE: On Friday, Museum Executive Director Ashley Howell sent out this statement: “In the future, the Tennessee State Museum will proactively provide all members of the media copies of agendas and accompanying materials for each Commission meeting in keeping with the practice of most state agencies. The museum’s management values transparency, and we will work diligently to abide by the state’s open records act.  We appreciate and value the role of the press, and we welcome coverage of museum business.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

ABOUT THIS BLOG
Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
Subscribe by Email
Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.