Confronted with a series of uncomfortable questions about the infamous Bredesen Bunker, the governor’s ofﬁce is claiming that emails with state addresses transmitted on public computers are not necessarily public record. It’s the type of backward stance you’d expect from a potbellied Mississippi sheriff—not the supposedly enlightened, Harvard-educated Phil Bredesen, who has spent the better part of the spring lecturing Democratic superdelegates about democracy.
In April, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research speciﬁcally requested a screen shot of the email inbox of Jody Folk, who works for ﬁrst lady Andrea Conte and has also toiled on the ongoing renovation of the Executive Residence, an epic project that has sparked outrage among Republicans and the ﬁrst couple’s immediate neighbors. It took over a month for the governor’s people to respond to the center’s simple request (this would take a 12-year-old about two minutes), and when it did, they redacted selected emails without explanation. The think tank then asked why they refused to turn over certain correspondence, and a spokesperson explained that some of them were “personal” in nature. As if that were all that needed to be said.
Considering the wide array of sentiments that a so-called personal email can include—“my feelings are hurt that this project is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars”—the right-leaning outﬁt is rightly suspicious that the governor’s ofﬁce may just be hiding correspondence that it may have trouble defending. In fact, the Bredesen administration has a completely different interpretation of the word “personal” than do you and I, because one of the emails it gladly turned over has the following subject line: “Aww, you gotta see the baby.”
“Their logic mystiﬁes me,” says Drew Johnson, the president of the TCPR. “An email about baby pictures is apparently a public record, but other emails sent and received on work time at the public’s expense isn’t, according to them, a public record. If an email is sent by a public servant on taxpayers’ time, it should be a public record, period.”
Still, even if state law hints that all emails sent and saved on public computers are public record, it’s not entirely clear on the matter. In fact, there are two provisions in particular that seem to contradict each other. Meanwhile, the state attorney general’s ofﬁce, which is defending the governor’s “it’s not business, it’s personal” stance, refers Desperately to an obscure 2005 case involving the Giles Board of Education in which an appellate court simply refused to rule on whether emails stored on government computers are a public record. That’s not much of an argument. (Then again, this is the same esteemed legal institution that until recently insisted on continuing the prosecution of a death row inmate the U.S. Supreme Court ruled was likely innocent.)
Making the attorney general’s position more muddled than it already is, its own employees have given lawmakers completely different advice. Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, says that a lawyer at the attorney general’s ofﬁce once warned lawmakers not to put anything in an email they wouldn’t want to run on a billboard on West End Avenue. Sounds pretty instructive. So which is it, guys? Are all emails public record or just ones the governor’s ofﬁce arbitrarily decides to share with you and me?
It’s all good?Leon Alligood, perhaps the best feature writer at The Tennessean, is leaving the paper at the end of the summer to take a full-time teaching position at Middle Tennessee State University. Largely manning the general assignment beat since joining The Tennessean after he left the shuttered Nashville Banner in 1998, Alligood has written stories from Iraq and Afghanistan, while seemingly penning the front page account of every tornado to roll through the state over the last 10 years. Though his prose can be a little purple at times, Alligood knows how to set a scene even under the rigid parameters of daily journalism, often giving Nashville readers vivid narratives of a colorful, lonely part of Tennessee they never visited. His departure hits the daily where it’s already weak: its stable of reporters who know the people and places they’re writing about.
“Good guy, we will miss him,” says Tennessean editor Mark Silverman. “It’s nothing nefarious,” he adds, in a nod to the departure of political reporter Sheila Wissner, who earlier this year simply walked out of the newsroom in disgust after 20 years at the paper. At the time, Wissner was in the middle of writing a story.
But if Alligood’s exit is a bit more conventional and deliberate, his colleagues still regard it ominously. They respect him greatly and don’t have much faith that their bosses appreciate what he means to the paper.
“Yeah, it’s sad. But we already replaced him,” one Tennessean reporter emailed to a few friends. “Got an intern coming in this afternoon.”
The main damage to his credibility is that the Tennessean printed it.
Cite. Be specific now.
AnglRdr is the wind beneath my wings. "...Did you ever know that you're my hero?"
Yes, there is, Donna, which is why your naked bigotry always comes as such a…
There's a record here, AnglRdr.