Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
PO Box 22248
Nashville TN 37202-2248
Mission Statement
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to promote and preserve citizen access to government records and meetings in Tennessee through education and outreach about our state's open records and open meetings laws. TCOG’s mission rests on the belief that access to government information, through public records and public meetings, is crucial in allowing informed citizen participation in a democratic society.
Leadership
CEO/Executive Director Ms. Deborah Fisher
Board Chair Lucian Pera
Board Chair Company Affiliation Adams & Reese LLP
History & Background
Year of Incorporation 2003
Organization's type of tax exempt status 501-C3
Financial Summary
 
 
Projected Expenses $67,287.00
Projected Annual Revenue $70,655.00 (2016)
Statements
Mission Tennessee Coalition for Open Government is a non-partisan organization whose mission is to promote and preserve citizen access to government records and meetings in Tennessee through education and outreach about our state's open records and open meetings laws. TCOG’s mission rests on the belief that access to government information, through public records and public meetings, is crucial in allowing informed citizen participation in a democratic society.
Background

TCOG’s educational programs build understanding and awareness of the importance of citizens’ rights to know what their government is doing through use of the state’s public records and open meetings laws.  Our mission is grounded in the belief that access to government information is crucial in allowing informed citizen participation in a democracy.

Since its inception in 2003, TCOG has provided training and presentations and offered on-the-spot free guidance through its Help Line. It has conducted research into open government issues and provided education and resources to citizens, journalists and lawmakers, including a new booklet on the state’s laws.

In 2004, TCOG trained 112 citizens and journalists to conduct a statewide audit in each of the state's 95 counties to check compliance with the public records law. Citizens were denied access to commonplace public records one-third of the time without reason.

The audit results were widely shared. A legislative study committee was created, and in 2008, the Legislature passed the first improvements in public records laws in 25 years, including a new requirement that officials cite a legal basis for denying access to records. The new laws also ushered in a new deadline for government officials to respond to public records request.

In addition, the Legislature created a new Office of Open Records Counsel as a resource for citizens and governmental entities to improve compliance. An Advisory Committee on Open Government was also formed.

TCOG continues to work on emerging issues in open government and is particularly concerned that per-hour labor fees will block access to important public records. We are also concerned about some governmental bodies who do not follow the Open Meetings Act in a way that harms the ability of citizens to be informed about decision-making by their local governing representatives. More than 350 exemptions to the Tennessee Public Records Act have been created since it was passed in 1957 and more are added each year. Our goal is to provide information and perspective when new laws are proposed so that the right of citizens to access to government information is preserved.

TCOG is a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

Impact

In 2015, we significantly increased assistance to citizens and journalists through TCOG's Help Line. Inquiries to the Help Line grew 65 percent. We also increased  communication through News Updates on our website and through our email newsletter on significant issues impacting open government. We continued to conduct presentations and workshops, and collaborated with peer organizations to raise awareness of a proposal to increase fees on citizens to view public records. TCOG increased its visibility across the state through news columns and media interviews, sharing information about our resources and the importance of a citizens' right to know about government business. Our membership doubled. Adn we broadened the representation on our Board of Directors to include a former Knoxville mayor and additional civic groups. Our top goals in 2016 are to develop a process to adopt public policy priorities, more fully utilize volunteers to expand our resources and programs, conduct useful research and increase helpful resources that would be publicly available on our website.

Needs

TCOG is funded through annual donations of individuals and organizations. We continue to need volunteers willing to participate in statewide research to check the status of open government throughout Tennessee, particularly volunteers in communities outside of the state's major metro areas.

Other ways to donate, support, or volunteer You also may donate by mailing a check to the address listed here, or on our website. We accept in-kind donations of certain services and welcome volunteers to participate in conducting surveys. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Deborah Fisher at fisher@tcog.info.
Service Categories
Primary Organization Category Civil Rights, Social Action, Advocacy / Civil Liberties
Secondary Organization Category Public & Societal Benefit / Citizen Participation
Tertiary Organization Category Community Improvement, Capacity Building / Community Coalitions
Areas of Service
Areas Served
TN
We serve citizens in all 95 counties of Tennessee.
CEO Statement

Although public access to government is among the missions for some other organizations, TCOG is the only organization in the state that focuses solely on this topic and is non-partisan. Many national organizations focus on freedom of information on the federal level, but TCOG fills the gap to promote and preserve openness in state and local government in Tennessee where citizens interact directly and daily. TCOG partners with other organizations, including the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Tennessee Press Association, Tennessee Association of Broadcasters and other groups that work on good-government and open-government issues.

Programs
Description TCOG operates a help line for citizens and media who face obstacles related to government records or public meetings in communities throughout Tennessee. We can answer questions and explain potential options as well as guide citizens through the process of their particular issue. We also can guide citizens through how to make a formal open records request and what to expect. We do not offer legal services.
Category
Population Served , ,
Description We provide public presentations giving an overview of citizen rights under Tennessee's open records and open meetings law as well as provide education on current issues related to access, such as fees, privacy concerns and litigation and legislation impacting access.
Category
Population Served , ,
Description We provide training on Tennessee's open government laws to equip journalists or students with the tools and information necessary to acquire public records or access to public meetings in situations where such access is being resisted or denied. Our training also gives an overview of public records exempt from access by statute, as well as meetings that can be closed from public view. This training is for media professionals or others who interact regularly with government in the acquisition of information. Our aim is for students to leave this training with new knowledge of the breadth of public records available for public interest journalism, and how to more effectively acquire government records.
Category
Population Served , ,
Description TCOG periodically conducts surveys on the status of open government laws in Tennessee and the availability of government information to the public.
Category
Population Served , ,
Description TCOG tracks proposed legislation, court cases and legal opinions that impact open government in Tennessee, as well as tracks violations of open government laws. It provides news and perspective of these developments through its website, contributed columns and media interviews. TCOG also provides resources on its website to assist the public in public records requests, and research into particular issues.
Category
Population Served , ,
CEO Comments TCOG continues to see the need to increase education about the state's public records and open meetings laws. We particularly see an opportunity to develop programs for government officials and staff. We believe that better education and increased adherence to best practices across local governments and state agencies in Tennessee will improve the public records and open meetings process, and encourage citizen participation in their government and improve citizen knowledge about their local governments. 
Board Chair
Board Chair Lucian Pera
Company Affiliation Adams & Reese LLP
Term Jan 2016 to Jan 2018
Email lucian.pera@arlaw.com
Board Members
NameAffiliationStatus
Whit Adamson Tennessee Association of BroadcastersVoting
Victor Ashe former Knoxville mayor and former state senator and state representativeVoting
Braden Boucek Beacon Center of TennesseeVoting
Dorothy Bowles Society of Professional Journalists, East Tennessee ChapterVoting
Anita Bugg WPLN Nashville Public RadioVoting
Maria De Varenne The TennesseanVoting
Elenora Edwards The Tennessee PressVoting
Ron Fryar Murfreesboro Post, Cannon CourierVoting
Alison Gerber Times Free Press, ChattanoogaVoting
Frank Gibson Tennessee Press Association and former TCOG executive directorVoting
Louis Graham The Commercial AppealVoting
Robb Harvey Waller Lansden Dortch & DavisVoting
Rick Hollow Hollow & Hollow, Tennessee Press AssociationVoting
Gregg Jones Jones Media (Greeneville Sun)Voting
Jack McElroy Knoxville News SentinelVoting
Marian Ott League of Women VotersVoting
Lucian Pera Adams & Reese LLP, MemphisVoting
Doug Pierce King & Ballow, NashvilleVoting
Helen Sharp Voting
John Stern Community VolunteerVoting
Hedy Weinberg ACLU - TennesseeVoting
Dick Williams Common CauseVoting
John Williams Tune Entrekin & WhiteVoting
Larry Wood WNWS-FM, News/Talk 101.5 FMVoting
Adam Yeomans Associated PressVoting
Board Demographics - Ethnicity
African American/Black 0
Asian American/Pacific Islander 0
Caucasian 25
Hispanic/Latino 0
Native American/American Indian 0
Other 0 0
Board Demographics - Gender
Male 16
Female 9
Unspecified 0
Governance
Board Term Lengths 3
Board Term Limits 0
Board Meeting Attendance % 90%
Does the organization have written Board Selection Criteria? Yes
Does the organization have a written Conflict of Interest Policy? No
Percentage of Board Members making Monetary Contributions 75%
Percentage of Board Members making In-Kind Contributions 50%
Does the Board include Client Representation? Yes
Number of Full Board Meetings Annually 3
Standing Committees
Nominating
Membership
Legislative
CEO Comments
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government broadened its board in 2015 to include members with more diverse experiences, including representatives from civic groups and a former mayor of a major Tennessee town. In addition, we established a membership committee to look at broadening our membership. We also increased board meetings to 3 per year for the full board, and several committee meetings via conference calls.
 
In addition, the TCOG board of directors worked with a consultant through the Center for Nonprofit Management to help guide development of a strategic plan and regular strategic planning process. A 2015-16 strategic plan was developed and adopted at a retreat in March 2015.
Executive Director/CEO
Executive Director Ms. Deborah Fisher
Term Start Nov 2013
Email fisher@tcog.info
Experience

Deborah Fisher spent 25 years as a journalist, holding positions of reporter, city editor, business editor, managing editor and executive editor. She worked 10 years at The Tennessean, where she was senior editor for news, and 15 years in Texas where for part of this time she served as vice president and executive editor at the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. She is a past president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and is currently on its board as treasurer. She graduated with a bachelor’s of arts degree in journalism from Baylor University. She recently co-authored a booklet with Tennessee Press Association public policy director Frank Gibson, Keys to Open Government: A guide to Tennessee’s open records and open meetings laws

Former CEOs
NameTerm
Kent Flanagan Jan 2011 - July 2013
Frank Gibson July 2003 - Dec 2012
Staff
Full Time Staff 0
Part Time Staff 1
Volunteers 100
Contractors 0
Retention Rate 100%
Plans & Policies
Does the organization have a documented Fundraising Plan? Under Development
Does the organization have an approved Strategic Plan? Yes
Number of years Strategic Plan Considers 2
In case of a change in leadership, is a Management Succession plan in place? No
Does the organization have a Policies and Procedures Plan? No
Does the organization have a Nondiscrimination Policy? No
 
 
Fiscal Year
Fiscal Year Start Jan 01 2016
Fiscal Year End Dec 31 2016
Projected Revenue $70,655.00
Projected Expenses $67,287.00
Detailed Financials
Expense Allocation
Fiscal Year201420132012
Program Expense$40,535$23,239$53,000
Administration Expense$10,177$5,807$2,444
Fundraising Expense$0$0$0
Payments to Affiliates$0$0$0
Total Revenue/Total Expenses0.941.850.50
Program Expense/Total Expenses80%80%96%
Fundraising Expense/Contributed Revenue0%0%0%
Assets and Liabilities
Fiscal Year201420132012
Total Assets$34,075$36,920$12,176
Current Assets$34,075$36,920$12,176
Long-Term Liabilities$0$0$0
Current Liabilities$0$0$0
Total Net Assets$34,075$36,920$12,176
Short Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201420132012
Current Ratio: Current Assets/Current Liabilities------
Long Term Solvency
Fiscal Year201420132012
Long-Term Liabilities/Total Assets0%0%0%
Top Funding Sources
Fiscal Year201420132012
Top Funding Source & Dollar AmountFoundations and Corporations $20,000Contributions, Gifts and Grants $48,785Contributions, Gifts and Grants $20,785
Second Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountContributions, Gifts, and Grants $17,861Program Service Revenue $5,000Membership Dues $6,100
Third Highest Funding Source & Dollar AmountProgram Services $10,000 --Investment Income $23
Capital Campaign
Is the organization currently conducting a Capital Campaign for an endowment or the purchase of a major asset? No
State Charitable Solicitations Permit
TN Charitable Solicitations Registration Yes - Expires June 2016
Organizational Budgets and Other Documents
2016 Projected Budget2016
Organization Comments The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has identified a need to increase educational programming as part of our mission to preserve and improve access to public records and meetings of governing bodies. To do this, we have slightly expanded our budget for 2015 and added new fundraising expansion goals.
GivingMatters.com Financial Comments
Financial figures taken from the 990EZ.
Schedule B removed to protect donor privacy. 
990 was internally prepared by the nonprofit.
Comment provided by Kathryn Bennett 8/19/15.
Nonprofit Tennessee Coalition for Open Government
Address PO Box 22248
Nashville, TN 37202 2248
Primary Phone (615) 602-4080
Contact Email fisher@tcog.info
CEO/Executive Director Ms. Deborah Fisher
Board Chair Lucian Pera
Board Chair Company Affiliation Adams & Reese LLP
Year of Incorporation 2003

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