Sadly, refusing the public access to information is the norm in Tennessee, as the TN Coalition for Open Government has been reporting. Simply put - the majority of government agencies, from school boards to elected officials and law enforcement constantly provide barriers to compliance with the law.
The mayor's "ban" occured just as the newspaper was researching a story on an unregistered lobbyist, paid $15,000 a month by Chattanooga. The lobbyist is also a former Littlefield campaign manager and as for registering with the state, as demanded by law - well, the application is in the mail.
It isn't some random event - it happens daily in every county and city. Too often, elected officials hold themselves above the law.
Attempts to strenghten the current laws concerning "open government" include a weak $50 fine and that's hardly enough, as noted in the Kingsport Times News editorial:
"If it can be proven that a public official has knowingly denied an appropriate request for a public record, why not relieve that official of his or her job? If public officials violate public meetings law, the court should be empowered to remove them from office.
Some elected officials and even some members of the public may wonder why the workings of government have to be conducted in public view. The simple answer is that a government that can avoid public examination on difficult issues, that never faces the risk of an embarrassing question, or is never called upon to justify its decisions, will soon cease to care or consider views other than its own."
UPDATE: The state legislature is slated to take up the issue of additions to the current laws on Monday - thanks to Christian Grantham for keeping me up to speed on this in the comments below. As he says: "Sunshine In Government Improvement Act of 2006" (SB2471) will come to the floor, that is if Senate Majority Leader Ron Ramsey allows it. Several Republicans have signed on as sponsors despite his opposition. What is going on in Chattanooga right now is a clarion call for passage of this important piece of legislation.