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Open records, transparency in government wins again

The issue of open records has been front and center on two separate occasions in Sumner County the last few weeks and in both cases we are pleased to report that openness and transparency have won the day.

First, there was a harrowing situation last week when a Gallatin police officer fired his gun at a large dog that was charging toward him. Debate about the incident raged on social media as people wondered - Why did the officer shoot at the dog? Was the officer in danger? Was the shooting justified?

There were strong opinions about the situation, but there was a way for us to shed more light on the issue. Knowing that there was likely police body camera footage, we requested the video from the Gallatin police. Remember, subject to each department, these videos are often open records and the public has every right to view them. In this case, the video gave people a pretty clear indication of what happened. After reviewing the video, we posted it to our Facebook page and the reaction was swift. The video has been viewed more than 75,000 times and almost all commenters came to the conclusion that the officer was justified in shooting at the dog. The dog's owner, who had expressed frustration the night before on social media, had this to say after the video was released:

"I've finally had a chance to watch the body cam of the officer involved. The officer was actually very calm and polite on arrival...(The dog) (d)id come at (the officer) very aggressively. I didn't have any of this information prior to last nights post...I do apologize to the officer involved and glad everyone is ok from this situation."

The dog was not hit and remains in the custody of Sumner County Animal Control.

The second big story had to do with the Sumner County Board of Education finally changing its policy on open records requests. They will now accept them via e-mail. While we will take wins for transparency and openness when we can get them, we can't help but view this one very skeptically. It so happens that the state legislature passed a law requiring all local municipalities to accept records requests via email and the board complied by passing the measure in their final meeting before the law was to take effect without any discussion or input from citizens.

There was very broad support throughout the state for the bill, that was proposed by State Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Goodlettsville). The bill passed both the house and senate unanimously and the governor signed it. Think about that for just a minute -- Republicans and Democrats can't agree on much these days, but every single member of both parties supported this law. And why not? It simply makes it easier for citizens to request information from their government and elected officials.

While citizens wait to see how the Tennessee Court of Appeals rules on the school board's denial of a Joelton man's request via email, they can mull how the $247,000 spent on legal bills could have better benefited students and teachers.

When the topic of open records is in the news, many readers roll their eyes, skip right past it and don't give it a second thought. But for those of you who love living in a free and democratic society, which we assume is the vast majority of you, having access to information about how your government is operating is absolutely essential. Public officials work on your behalf and oversight of what they are doing and providing accountability is critical. We will continue to fight for that access, for all of us.

The Main Street Media of Tennessee editorial board is comprised of Publisher Dave Gould, Editor Sherry Mitchell and reporters Tena Lee and Josh Cross.

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