Bill Filed in Tennessee General Assembly to Address Hamilton County’s Alleged Destruction of Public Records

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Tennessee State Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and State Rep. Yusef Hakeem (D-Chattanooga) have filed legislation intended to address the Hamilton County government’s alleged and recent destruction of government records.

According to the language on the Tennessee General Assembly’s website, the bill requires the state, any agency, institution, and political subdivision to post previously adopted written policies concerning electronic mail communications to the applicable entity’s website.

Tennessee law requires the state or any agency, institution, or political subdivision that operated or maintained an electronic mail communication system adopt a written policy on any monitoring of the communications and the circumstances under which it would be conducted by July 1, 2000, according to the bill.

“The proposed language would require such entities to post such written policies to the entity’s website There are approximately five counties who do not have county-specific websites or a county government page on a chamber of commerce’s website,” according to the language of the bill.

“Counties will not be mandated to establish a county website in order to comply with the provisions of this legislation. Any fiscal impact to local government as a result of posting such requirements on existing websites is estimated to be not significant.”

Gardenhire did not return The Tennessee Star’s request for comment Monday. But one of Gardenhire’s staff members said the bill in question is SB 2313.

Gardenhire told The Chattanooga Times Free Press, though, that his goal “is to stop what went on with the county and make it clear that you can’t destroy public records, especially if they’ve been requested.”

“The act to amend existing records law now seeks to require a ‘state agency, institution and political subdivision to post electronic mail communications policy’ on its website, but it is a caption bill, meaning it may be changed or added to before a vote to change the codes listed, both of which pertain to the inspection and retention of records,” the website reported.

As The Star reported earlier this month, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government alleged that members of the Hamilton County government destroyed public records to keep them away from members of the media.

TCOG officials specifically cited Hamilton County Attorney Rheubin Taylor.

Taylor, the TCOG went on to say, refused to allow inspection of its responses to public records requests without the Chattanooga Times Free Press paying a more than $700 fee. Taylor’s office later got permission to destroy the requested records, even as the newspaper continued to press to see them, said TCOG Executive Director Deborah Fisher.

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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