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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Indirect Public Support HelpIndirect public support represents revenue received through solicitation campaigns. This includes funding United Way and other federated fundraising organizations, but does not include donor designated contributions.
Earned Revenue HelpEarned revenue represents income generated in direct exchange for a product or service.Earned income includes income from government contracts.
One million more people will move to the Middle Tennessee region before 2035, making the lack of public transportation in this area a significant and pressing issue. Consensus is growing that expanded transportation options will be critical both to our future economic stability and growth, as well as the environmental well-being of our region.
The need for better mobility in and access to small urban and rural communities is placing new emphasis on the availability of public transportation services, as this will be essential in sustaining and guiding growth in flourishing areas as well as revitalizing areas that continue to struggle.
In Tennessee, gang presence has been on the rise since the late 1980s and early 1990s, when gangs first made a concerted push into the state. Since 2011, police have identified at least 5,000 gang members in Davidson County, and gang-related crimes have increased by 25%. Meanwhile, cities with 50,000 or fewer inhabitants have seen gang-related crimes triple in frequency nationally since 2005.
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