Greeneville’s government deserves some recognition for its willingness to back up and do something the right way after initially mis-stepping and violating state law this week.
As we reported on Wednesday, when the Greeneville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted on the appointee to replace former longtime Alderman Sarah Webster, it did so using paper ballots, as prescribed by its charter. But those ballots did not identify who voted for whom.
State law clearly prohibits local governments from taking secret votes or secret ballots on any matter.
A member of the news staff here at The Greeneville Sun spotted the issue Wednesday morning, and our reporting followed suit. After a few phone calls with town officials, they decided by Thursday morning to schedule a new vote on the issue for the next regular board meeting on May 21.
Two items are worth noting about the episode.
First, after the Sun raised the issue, town officials ultimately decided to hold a new vote. Doing so is the right thing, but many government officials in many places are not so open to the constructive criticism we aimed to offer.
We never thought the BMA or Mayor W.T. Daniels, who presided over the meeting, were trying to flaunt the state’s Open Meetings Act. It appeared to be a change in usual voting protocol that probably that resulted in an unintentional oversight of the Open Meetings Act’s particularities. Still, it’s our job to point out such things to our elected officials, and we take that responsibility seriously (more on that shortly). And as a general rule, we want all elected officials to take Open Meetings Act issues as seriously as we do.
But since the inception of Sunshine Laws in Tennessee and elsewhere, plenty of public officials statewide do all they can to skirt around the transparency codified in such laws. Not so here in this case, and for that we commend the board.
The second notable aspect of this episode: It may seem a small thing, but this is why having an independent and thriving press is vital for each community in this country. Greene County is no different.
To our knowledge, the Sun was the only institution or individual to publicly raise a question about how the vote was handled. For decades, newspapers and other media have been the watchdogs on our elected officials and often stand in the breach between how public business is conducted and the transparency with which it needs to be conducted.
While this was a relatively minor episode, one principle animated our actions: Each citizen has the right to know how his or her elected representatives vote on any given issue. Replacing a member of the BMA is no different.
This situation was minor. The next one may not be. But for each one, our job is to record the facts, report them to you and safeguard the public’s right to know. That last responsibility falls to each of us individually, not just journalists.
To do our job, though, we need the constant support of our readers and advertisers. We’re grateful to all those who allow us to do that job, which will always be to serve this community by shining a light on where we need it most: our home.