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APME Update for Thursday, March 22, 2012
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APME Update
APME Update for Thursday, March 22, 2012

Save the Date
• March 30, March Madness online auction closes
• May 1,
Deadline for APME Journalism Excellence Awards
• May 1,
2-for-1 Membership Offer Ends
• May 18-19,
NewsTrain, Miami
• Sept. 13-14,
NewsTrain, Toronto
Sept. 19-21, 2012 - APME Conference, John Seigenthaler Center, Nashville, Tenn.

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ABOUT US: APME Update is published regularly by the Associated Press Media Editors Association. APME Update is edited by Sally Jacobsen. Send submissions by e-mail or call Sally at (212) 621-7007.

To receive APME Update by e-mail notify apme@ap.org. APME is an AP-member group of newspaper, broadcast and college education leaders founded in 1933 to provide input on the services of The Associated Press and to help newsroom managers become better leaders. A business league under section 501(c)(6) of the Internal Revenue Code, APME is funded through registrations and sponsorships at the annual conference, APME Supporting Memberships and in-kind support. The Associated Press Media Editors Association Foundation, Inc., a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, supports educational programming. Membership in APME is open to senior print and online editors at AP-member newspapers and news directors, news managers or other senior positions at AP broadcast outlets in the United States and Canadian Press publications in Canada. It is also open to administrators, professors, instructors, leaders or advisers of journalism studies programs at recognized colleges and universities and to editors or leaders at newspapers, radio stations, websites or other news outlets at recognized universities and colleges.

Mailing address: Associated Press Media Editors Association, c/o Sally Jacobsen, The Associated Press, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, NY 10001. Phone: (212) 621-7007.

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Please help us keep your contact information up-to-date. To change your profile, please click here.

Have you checked out our March Madness auction at www.apme.com?

Don’t miss the bargains, ranging from an APME Nashville conference registration to a week at the Jersey shore just after the prime season – and more iconic photo images from The Associated Press and member newspapers, sports tickets, books and Brooklyn tour and much more!

Help APME help journalists by making a winning bid to support our programs.

Bids will end at the close of March. Alert your friends to our deals and don’t be shut out.

Bidding ends at 5 p.m. EST, March 30.

Here’s how it works: Bid now and bid often. You will receive a reply to your email bid letting you know it was received. But you need to check to the auction site to see if other bidders try to claim your prize. The top bid wins at 5 p.m. EST, Friday, March 30. If you are a winner, we’ll notify to arrange for payment and get your prize shipped in the US (or make arrangements for other shipping).

Start the bidding at: http://www.apme.com/?page=online_auction

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SOUNDING BOARD: Naming Juveniles Charged with Crimes

The Associated Press generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes.

Do you agree?

We asked editors that question in our latest Sounding Board, and you can read the results from editors surveyed now at www.apme.com.

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2012 APME JOURNALISM EXCELLENCE AWARDS: Deadline May 1

Did you know that APME members can send in an entry for our contest for only $50?

The rate is reduced this year for members, so round up your best work and submit it. The APME contests have expanded to include innovation awards for radio, television and colleges.

Did your public service work raise the bar? Did your First Amendment work shine? It’s easy to enter online.

Just remember, contest deadline is May 1.

Not a member? Until May 1 we have a 2-for-1 offer. Join for the regular rate of $150 and bring along a newsroom colleague or broadcast or college partner.

More details:

The 2012 APME Journalism Excellence Awards honor superior journalism and innovation among newspapers, radio, television and online news sites across the United States and Canada. The awards seek to promote excellence by recognizing work that is well written and incisively reported and that effectively challenges the status quo.

This year, innovation-award categories have been added for radio, television and college students. In addition, the online convergence category has been retooled. The new digital storytelling award recognizes print-online combinations that draw on data visualization, social media, video and/or blogs in presenting a story.

Categories include:

• Sixth Annual Innovator of the Year Award. The winner will be awarded $1,000.
• (New) Innovator of the year awards for Television and Radio
• (New) Innovator of the year award for college students
• Third Annual Gannett Foundation Award for Innovation in Watchdog Journalism. The winner in each of two circulation categories will be awarded $2,500.
• 42st Annual Public Service Awards
• 42st Annual First Amendment Award and Citations
• 11th Annual International Perspective Awards
• Digital Storytelling and Reporting Awards (previously Online Convergence Awards)

The deadline for entry is Tuesday, May 1.

All awards are presented for journalism published or launched between July 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012.

Entry fees are $50 for APME members and $100 for non-APME members.

For more information: Please go to: http://www.apme.com/?page=2012_Contest

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NEW 2-FOR-1 OFFER FOR APME MEMBERSHIP

Join APME now at our $150 rate and bring on another editor, educator or broadcast news leader free.

Our 2-for-1 offer will last until May 1.

This is a great time to join, for reasons outlined below. But membership has more value than ever after the APME board reduced the price of entering our prestigious Journalism Excellence Awards from $75 to $50 per entry for members. Non-members will still pay $100 per entry.

Consider the savings you and the person you bring along will have. Reach out to a broadcast leader or journalism educator in your market, perhaps, or bring in another newsroom editor.

We'll also soon roll out three social media credibility webinars that will be offered to APME members at a reduced rate.

With more than 1,600 participants and 200 supporting members, the Associated Press Media Editors remains the practical voice for news leaders.

For the $150 cost of membership, you'll receive substantial discounts for the annual conference, APME journalism contests and APME webinars.

But there’s more:

• APME brings together news leaders from all sizes of publications and broadcast stations.

• The APME board of directors has dedicated seats for small newspapers, online and broadcast.

• Myriad programs, such as Sounding Board, help keep the lines of communication open with AP.

• News leaders can tap into AP resources on national projects, such as Broken Budgets and Aging America.

• Your newsroom can benefit from training that comes to you through NewsTrain and state APME organizations.

• APME is leading the First Amendment charge through its active committee work and with the help and resources of the AP.

• APME and APPM are at the forefront of the sports credentialing questions.

• Your organization can gain from Credibility Roundtables that offer research and insight into online issues nationwide.

• You can get great advice from the trenches.

• Great Ideas program and the Innovator of the Month contest help to keep the ideas rolling all year long.

• For educators: Access to the newsroom and broadcast leaders who do the hiring.

• Weekly APME Update with news from around the industry and the AP.

• APME News, the magazine that offers industry insight and guidance.

• The annual conference is held with Associated Press Photo Editors.

• Trade ideas and ask for advice from your peers at facebook.com/apmenews.

Sign up now at apme.com

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WATCHDOG REPORTING: SUMMARY OF RECENT IMPACT JOURNALISM

San Diego Union-Tribune: Who pays for the campus building boom in California?
Sacramento Bee: Pension costs eat at local government services
Press Democrat: Segregated schools: The consequences of school choice
Palm Beach Post: Tax money helps pill mills thrive in Florida
Tulsa World: Funding cuts in Oklahoma hamper addiction treatment
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Missouri fails to check for school test fraud
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Racial diversity lacking at area colleges
Houston Chronicle: Housing agency hires friends and relatives, even convicts
Denver Post: Deaths from prescription opioid use in Colorado double in 10 years
The Boston Globe: Thousands of medical malpractice records routinely expunged
Austin American-Statesman: Over 1,000 deported for minor violations
Atlanta Journal Constitution: State paid millions to lax day care centers
Arizona Republic: Police off-duty work gets little oversight

Read about these and more by clicking here

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BEAT OF THE WEEK: Michael Hill and J.M. Hirsch

The debate over the processed meat filler dubbed "pink slime” has been going on for a long time. The product had been added to ground beef for years, and food activists had objected to it almost as long.

But in news, timing is crucial. The fight had gone "from a simmer to a boil,” as Albany newsman Michael Hill described it in collaboration with Food Editor J.M. Hirsch. Their teamwork produced the Beat of the Week scoop by Hill, as well as a lip-smacking good follow-up by Hirsch.

Hill’s APNewsBreak reported that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which buys 20 percent of school food nationwide, was shifting away from its full embrace of pink slime and would now allow schools in the National School Lunch Program to use ground beef that did not contain the ammonia-treated filler.

Hill had started looking into the matter after Hirsch realized that the argument over "pink slime” had ratcheted up to become a genuine social media frenzy. A food blogger’s online petition calling for the USDA to ban the substance from school lunches altogether was growing fast, accumulating more than 200,000 signatures in just a few days.

Hill contacted the USDA early in his reporting and was emailed a prepared statement with basic background information. But he knew that pressure on the USDA was growing and made plans to check in with the agency before the story’s publication to see if there were any fresh developments. There were. The USDA was set to announce the next day that, starting next fall, schools would have a choice: 95 percent lean beef patties made with the product, or less lean bulk ground beef without it.

"Pink slime” is the name coined by a federal microbiologist for "lean, finely textured beef," a low-cost ingredient in ground beef made from fatty bits of meat left over from other cuts. The bits are heated to about 100 F and spun to remove most of the fat. The lean mix then is compressed into blocks for use in ground meat. The product, made by South Dakota-based Beef Products Inc., also is exposed to "a puff of ammonium hydroxide gas" to kill bacteria such as E. coli and salmonella.

"Pink slime’ beef has been on the market for years, and federal regulators say it meets standards for food safety. But advocates for wholesome food have denounced the process as a potentially unsafe and unappetizing example of industrialized food production.

But what does the stuff actually taste like?

Hirsch took that question further. He wanted to know how average consumers could know if they are buying ground beef containing "pink slime.” So he headed to grocery stores and started asking questions. Combined with some beef industry background gathered by AP freelance food writer Michele Kayal, Hirsch was able to answer the important questions about how much shoppers can reasonably expect to know when purchasing ground beef.

In the process, he managed to find samples of ground beef with and without "pink slime.” This enabled him to make the story even more compelling for consumers by cooking the samples and describing the differences in taste and texture.

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AP JOURNALIST RECOUNTS FLEEING SYRIAN CITY UNDER FIRE

By RODRIGO ABD
Associated Press

ANTAKYA, Turkey (AP) — Explosions illuminated the night as we ran, hoping to escape Syria after nearly three weeks of covering a conflict that the government seems determined to keep the world from seeing. Tank shells slammed into the city streets behind us, snipers' bullets whizzed by our heads and the rebels escorting us were nearly out of ammunition.

It seemed like a good time to get out of Syria.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Award-winning journalists Rodrigo Abd and Ahmed Bahaddou sneaked into Syria and spent nearly three weeks reporting from opposition-held territory. Abd, an Associated Press photographer, is based in Guatemala. Bahaddou is a video journalist on assignment for the AP, based in Turkey.

With regime forces closing in on the rebel-held northern city of Idlib, Associated Press cameraman Ahmed Bahaddou and I set out Sunday for neighboring Turkey on a journey that would take us through a pitch-black passage and miles of muddy olive groves in the freezing cold.

We ran into delays and dangers with every step — from fighting between rebel and government forces to a missed connection with our guide.

We coordinated our escape with the Free Syrian Army, the rebel force fighting to hold onto Idlib, but the situation was deteriorating quickly. The snipers, shelling and explosions were growing ever closer.

"We are all going to be killed!" a terrified Syrian activist told me, collapsing into tears. An FSA fighter said the government troops were sure to take the city back, because the rebels were running out of ammunition.

A rebel commander said he understood if his fighters wanted to run away and save themselves.

"Whoever wants to leave and not fight, lay your Kalashnikovs here," he said.

Nobody did.

Last week, troops had encircled Idlib, and tank shells starting pounding the city from dawn until evening. Rebels dashed through the streets, taking cover behind the corners of buildings as they clashed with the troops. Wounded fighters were piled into trucks bound for places where they could be treated. I saw a man carrying a young boy, the child's jacket soaked in blood. I later learned the boy was dead.

On Tuesday, just one day after we made it out, government forces recaptured Idlib, although activists reported some pockets of resistance remained. Still, it was a blow to the rebels.

The regime says it is fighting foreign terrorists and armed gangs, denying that the yearlong uprising is a popular revolt. But what we saw in Idlib was nothing like what the government is describing. The townspeople support the uprising; every family seemed to have a fighter in the streets, or knew somebody who was fighting.

The FSA rebels were Syrians, from Idlib. We did not see any foreigners doing battle.

The biggest challenge for the rebels was not their fervor to fight; they all seemed willing to die to oust the regime of President Bashar Assad. They were armed with little more than rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov machine guns and grenades.

The opposition's rallying cry in recent days has been an appeal for weapons. An influx of anti-tank missiles and other heavy arms could be a turning point in the conflict.

But as government forces moved in last week, all we could think of was Baba Amr — the neighborhood in the Syrian city of Homs that endured nearly four weeks of government shelling. Hundreds of people were killed in the siege, and the humanitarian situation was catastrophic. Among the dead were two journalists, Marie Colvin, a veteran American-born war correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times, and Remi Ochlik, 28, a French photojournalist. Both were cut down when a shell struck nearby.

Idlib was believed to be the next target now that the government had recaptured Baba Amr. As the rebels gathered on street corners, families packed a few possessions and rushed to leave the city. Women and children hid in basements to escape the shelling.

"Of course I am afraid!" a Syrian woman cried in one of the shelters, where a dozen women and children hid Saturday. "Even the men are afraid."

By Saturday, many people fled Idlib to reach surrounding villages. Electricity was switched off most of the day, lasting only about three hours, in what was likely an attempt by the government to clear out the population.

Everybody was preparing for a siege, making our escape all the more complicated. We decided to spend the night among the wounded in Idlib, delaying our departure, because we were too scared to move. As we drove through the dark streets, the driver turned off the headlights so nobody would detect us — even though that meant we could not see anything either.

The thundering "BOOM! BOOM!" from tank shells was relentless.

When we woke up the next morning, the toll of the violence we had somehow escaped was apparent: Wounded people, including children and women, were crowded around in bloodstained clothes. Many had clearly been hit by snipers in the legs and arms. Many had gaping wounds from shrapnel and died in their beds.

There was no space in the morgue for more corpses, so families arranged to bury the dead immediately. Funerals were out of the question because of the danger of being outside.

When evening fell, we decided to leave the city. The idea was to run over an open area overlooked by snipers and tanks, but our guides suggested we go underneath it, through a passage. We had to walk to it, led by an FSA fighter who kept us waiting for a half-hour while battles raged in the streets. We moved carefully through a city devoid of any normal sounds of life — no cars honking, no one on the streets — just silence broken by gunfire and explosions.

The corridor was cramped and so dark that we could not see our hands in front of our faces. Crouching to fit inside it, we moved for about 40 meters (130 feet) until we reached the other end, which was mercifully outside the regime's cordon. It was only after we emerged that we realized our escort was carrying homemade grenades on his vest, unstable explosives that easily could have blown us to bits while we were inside.

The next leg of our journey took us to a massive field of deep mud. There was no way to cross on foot or even in a car. But our contact on the Turkish side of the border had arranged the perfect mode of transport to ferry us into the country: a bright, red tractor.

We clambered aboard and rolled through the mud for a half-hour before crossing an unmarked, largely porous border. Nobody stopped us or even noticed.

Reporting from Syria had been risky, but it was the only way to cover the story properly, without being at the mercy of government minders who try to control what you see and whom you meet.

In the past year, Syria has severely restricted the number of visas it issues to journalists, and those who do get in must take trips accompanied by government escorts.

On Saturday, the Syrian Information Ministry issued a warning that journalists such as Ahmed and me who entered the country illegally "are accompanying terrorists, promoting their crimes and fabricating baseless news."

The statement alluded to the deaths of Colvin and Ochlik, saying media companies are "legally and morally responsible for anything that may result from what could happen to these journalists due to their accompaniment of terrorists."

But for Ahmed and me, the trip was an opportunity to present an honest picture of a conflict that remains largely hidden from the world.

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INDUSTRY NEWS

• Surveillance video released to newspaper
• Kunerth named publisher of Fairbanks paper
• Pew: Tablets draw news attention, but profit a question
• Former Gannett CEO gets $32M severance package
• Artist admits to shortcuts in show about Apple
• Philly newspaper union might fight latest job cuts
• Army private charged in leak case returns to court
• Wisconsin appeals court rules in newspaper records case
• Maysville, Ky., newspaper ending Tuesday publication
• In scathing report, portrait of a leaks prosecutor
• Chicago Tribune lays off 15 newsroom staffers
• Beatrice, Neb., publisher taking job in Bellevue
• Widow of Oregonian editorial page editor comments on his death

Read about these items and more by clicking here

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IN MEMORIAM

Former publisher, philanthropist John Cowles Jr. dies at 82

John Cowles Jr., former publisher and chairman of the Star Tribune newspapers and a philanthropist who helped shape the cultural community of the Twin Cities by pushing for facilities like the Guthrie Theater and the Metrodome, has died. He was 82.

The Star Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/y3LsV7 ) that Cowles had suffered from lung cancer and died Saturday evening at his Minneapolis home.

"He died peacefully at sunset, surrounded by loving family," his family said in a statement provided to the newspaper. "His courage, deliberate style, wisdom and love of community were some of the special qualities that gave us all joy and will continue to be an influence in our lives."

Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak called Cowles "one of the most important civic figures in Minneapolis in the last half century." Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a friend, said Cowles fought for civility and reason, and had a sense of caring for the community.

"He was never a person who wanted credit," Mondale said. "He was always one step behind those who he wanted to receive it. ... I hope that over these next few days, as we celebrate his life, that the public will come to better understand all that he's meant to us."

Cowles came from a publishing family, but left active management of the newspaper in 1982. After that, he studied agricultural economics, taught aerobics and was a philanthropic visionary. He also briefly appeared nude as part of a dance by choreographer Bill T. Jones.

The Cowles Media Foundation, which later became the Star Tribune Foundation, donated millions of dollars annually. Last fall, the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts was dedicated in downtown Minneapolis.

"I assumed it was part of the job when you owned the newspaper in town, that you're responsible for the town," Cowles told the Star Tribune in a 1996 interview about his stewardship.

Cowles' grandfather bought the Des Moines Register in 1903 and began building a media empire. Cowles was 6 when his father and uncle bought the Minneapolis Star in 1935. The family moved to Minneapolis in 1938 and within three years John Cowles Sr. controlled all the city's newspapers.

John Jr. graduated from Harvard and served in the Army, then started working at the newspaper in 1953 as a police reporter. By 1961 he was editor of the morning Tribune and evening Star. He became president and editorial chairman later that decade. He shared his father's journalism instincts, but where his father had a fascination with politics, world affairs and business, John Jr. was more interested in gender equity, art and human potential.

In the early 1960s, Cowles convinced director Tyrone Guthrie to establish a regional theater in Minneapolis. He then raised money for it and later served as its board chairman. In the 1980s, he pushed for a domed stadium for the Twins and Vikings — a move that was controversial as stadium opponents, including 45 newsroom employees who took out an ad, suggested that he should not take a stance because he was head of a newspaper company.

Cowles also was a director of The Associated Press board, and a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University. In 1964, he was named one the Ten Outstanding Young Men of the Year by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce.

After some financial losses, the closing of a newspaper in Buffalo and Cowles' decision to fire Star and Tribune publisher Donald Dwight, the board of directors ousted Cowles as chairman and chief executive in 1983. He left the board in 1984 but retained significant control of the company by managing a family voting trust that controlled 60 percent of Cowles Media stock. His son, Jay Cowles, took over the trust in 1990.

"His response to his own firing, with equanimity and care for the newspaper as an enterprise, led him to be effective as a family leader through the sale in 1998," said Jay Cowles. During this time, Cowles publicly betrayed no emotion about what he was going through.

"If John had been the kind of person to fight that kind of thing, he could have," said David Cox, former CEO of Cowles Media. "His sense was that instead of triggering all that, he would step out. It was classic John."

Cowles Media was sold to the McClatchy Corp. for $1.4 billion in 1998.

Current Star Tribune publisher Mike Klingensmith said Cowles' contributions to the newspaper and community can't be measured.

"All of us at the Star Tribune mourn his loss," Klingensmith said.

Cowles is survived by his wife, four children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. A celebration of his life will take place at a later date.

Georgia Sportswriter Furman Bisher dies at 93

Famed Georgia sportswriter Furman Bisher, who covered everything from major golf tournaments to the Triple Crown during a career that spanned six decades, died Sunday of a massive heart attack outside Atlanta. He was 93.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Bisher's death on its website Sunday evening (http://bit.ly/AqFVbu ). Former AJC editor Jim Minter said family members told him that Bisher had planned to watch golf at home on Sunday but complained of feeling ill, at which point his wife Lynda called 911. He died at a nearby hospital.

"He put more quality words on newsprint than any other writer in the last half of the 20th century," Minter said late Sunday, according to the newspaper. "He never wrote a bad column."

Bisher retired in 2009 after 59 years at the Georgia newspaper, writing his final column on the same typewriter he used in 1950.

At his retirement, Bisher said: "I just decided that's enough — I had been thinking about it a couple weeks. I wanted to get it done, get it over with, and as far as I'm concerned it's no big deal. I just won't be writing a column."

The North Carolina native wrote hundreds of articles for national magazines including Sports Illustrated and the Saturday Evening Post. He also authored several books, including an autobiography of baseball great Hank Aaron.

Born Nov. 4, 1918 in Denton, N.C., James Furman Bisher began his career in 1938 at the Lumberton Voice in his home state and became an editor at the Charlotte News two years later. In 1949, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson gave Bisher and Sport Magazine his only interview since being ousted from baseball 30 years earlier in the "Black Sox" scandal.

Bisher received numerous awards over his career, including the Red Smith Award for sports journalism and the William D. Richardson Award from the Golf Writers Association of America. Last year he was an inaugural inductee into the Atlanta Press Club's Hall of Fame.

Bisher was a father of three sons, one of whom had died.

After his official retirement, Bisher continued to write occasionally for the Journal-Constitution and to cover golf tournaments. He was looking forward to reporting on the Masters tournament, which he had covered every year since 1950. "Mr. Bisher was as passionate about the AJC in his final days as he ever was," AJC sports editor Ray Cox said in a statement. "And he was always a perfect Southern gentleman. He was first and foremost a journalist but one whose ability to write far surpassed the skills of most of us who came into the business hoping to emulate him."

Read about these items and more by clicking here

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AND FINALLY … Tough Sunshine Law ensures government transparency

By KENT FLANAGAN
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government

It's Sunshine Week in America, the one week of the year celebrated by news organizations and open government advocates about keeping government honest.

Watchdogs of the Fourth Estate have made it their duty to report on the actions taken by local, state and federal government. And the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, or TCOG, was created to preserve and improve access to public information.

To be sure, a large majority of our public servants from elected officials to clerks in the city water department are honest and justifiably proud of the work they perform on our behalf. But it only takes one bad player to give everyone else a bad name.

Most of us are aware of the really bad actors who have been brought to justice after ripping off taxpayers. One extreme example is that of Bell, Calif., (pop. 38,000) where eight city officials were arrested and charged in September 2010 for taking millions of dollars in exorbitant salaries for themselves and literally driving the city into bankruptcy.

Fortunately, nothing of that magnitude has occurred in Tennessee, but stories of embezzlement, kickbacks and bribery have occurred here. Does anyone recall Operation Tennessee Waltz, a federal and state sting operation that resulted in indictments and prison time for state legislators and local officials in 2004-2005?

In Tennessee, we take pride in the fact that the state's Sunshine Law predates the national Sunshine Week by 31 years. In 1974, the Tennessee General Assembly passed the most comprehensive in the nation to insure that public business is conducting in full public view.

Here's the essence of The Sunshine Law in Tennessee Code Annotated 8-44-101:

"The general assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret."

Unfortunately, just as there are exceptions to rules of grammar, Tennessee also allowed for limited exceptions to this open meetings policy when the legislature defined public meetings in TCA 8-44-102:

"All meetings of any governing body are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all times, except as provided by the Constitution of Tennessee."

A "governing body" can be any public board or commission that "the authority to make decisions for or recommendations to a public body on policy or administration and also means a community action agency which administers community action programs.."

It also covers a variety of boards of directors of associations, nonprofit or not-for-for profit corporations, authorized and contracted to conduct business on behalf of the public.

OK, I know your mind is growing numb with the idea that this concept is not as straight forward as you had hoped.
That's where you come into the picture, because as a citizen, you have responsibilities to fulfill.

Most people don't think about the rates for water or trash pickup or property taxes until the rates go up.

Very simply, it is because representatives elected by YOU and your neighbors establish and maintain all the services you receive as a resident.

Public schools, solid waste disposal, law enforcement, etc., all come with price tags set by boards and commission who represent you.

Yes, reporters from newspapers, television and radio stations generally report on most of those meetings of public boards and commissions. Ultimately, however, it is up to you to take the responsibility of knowing what your duly elected and appointed representatives are doing in your name.

You have the right to attend public meetings and you have the right to obtain the minutes of public meetings. All public bodies are required to post adequate notice in advance of their meetings about when and where the meetings are to be held. How much notice is adequate? That has not been clearly defined by state law.

No deliberations or decisions are allowed to be made outside public meetings. That means that a commissioner cannot ask other commissioners to meet with him to review proposals outside a called public meeting.

In today's society with all its complexities, it is not feasible for every citizen to attend every public meeting of every public body in the community. It may not possible with available resources for a newspaper or broadcast station to cover them all.

What's the answer?

Support your primary local news sources, create or join a local neighborhood advocacy group and support groups that advocate for open government, such as TCOG.

If you have a question - any question - about the Sunshine Law or about access to public documents, TCOG is available to help.

-0-

Kent Flanagan is executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. TCOG is an alliance of news media, and citizen and professional groups working to educate Tennesseans about their right to know about the affairs of their government as set out in the state constitution and the state's "sunshine" and public records laws. Flanagan can be reached at 615-957-2825 615-957-2825 or kent.flanagan@gmail.com.

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ABOUT US: APME Update is published regularly by the Associated Press Media Editors Association. APME Update is edited by Sally Jacobsen. Send submissions by e-mail or call Sally at (212) 621-7007.
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