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Closed interviews violate Sunshine law-counsel

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It is a violation of state law to conduct private interviews of applicants who want to be hired as the executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board in Marshall County, according to the general counsel for the Tennessee Press Association.

Rick Hollow successfully represented the Knoxville News Sentinel in its complaint against the Knox County Commission last year when several county officials were removed from office because of the lawsuit.

Hollow was consulted Monday about the interviews being conducted by the executive committee of the economic and community development board, which was formed under the terms of Chapter 1101 in state law.

The law also deals with the Three Star Program and requires 20-year growth plans in every county.

"If they are members of the economic and community development board, then, in my opinion, their little committee would be covered (by the state's requirement for open and public meetings) because they are members of the overall board and because two of them are there," Hollow said.

Tennessee's open meetings act prohibits two or more public officials on the same panel from being together out of a public meeting when they deliberate toward a decision of public business.

The JE&CD Board is a 21-member panel. Its members include all of the mayors in the county, or their designated representative.

The mayors are the executive committee and the mayors were selected by the JE&CD Board to serve as a selection committee to interview applicants who want to succeed Jamie Stitt, the panel's first executive director. She resigned last year to take a job with the Three Star Program.