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Prisoner Education Guide

Organizations Acting as Government Subject to Public Records, Open Meetings Laws

by David Reutter

A Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision that the Jefferson County Economics Development and Oversight Committee, Inc. (EDOC) is not subject to provisions of the State Public Records and Open Meetings Acts and remanded the case for further review. 

Jefferson County, Jefferson City, and Dandridge all passed resolutions supporting the creation of the EDOC. They appointed a board of mostly county officials, funded from the county budget. Its charter stated that its purpose was to coordinate business development in the county among governmental agencies. Because of this, Oliver Wood and others filed a complaint that the EDOC was performing a public service and should be subject to the Public Records and Open Meetings Acts. 

The court held that a private organization must be evaluated by a totality of factors to determine if it serves as a governmental agency and that the EDOC fit these criteria. 

The defendants argued that the EDOC did not make decisions, only recommendations, and that it was not created by legislation or determined to be a public entity. The plaintiffs argued that the EDOC served a public purpose. They used testimony given over Jefferson County’s proposed “mega site” development project (an industrial park in Dandridge). In it, it was shown that the EDOC evaluated the proposal through an economic impact analysis and recommended the county authorize funds for the certification process. Due to this recommendation, the county voted to allocate $442,311 for the project’s initial phase. 

Referring to the Tennessee Supreme Court’s holding that a public body is anything whose origin can be traced to the state, county, or city and whose members have authority to make decisions or recommendations affecting the conduct of business in the government sector, the court held that the EDOC was acting as a public agency and therefore was subject to the Public Records and Open Meetings Acts. 

The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s order remanding the case for review consistent with the court’s opinion. 

See: Wood v. Jefferson County EDOC S.W.3d (2017).

               

Related legal case

Wood v. Jefferson County


 

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