Sara's Column: Newspaper victory not far from home

Speaking as a journalist, it’s easy to sometimes lose sight of why we do what we do.
Oct 10, 2013

Speaking as a journalist, it’s easy to sometimes lose sight of why we do what we do.

We get caught up in the day-to-day mayhem of life in the newsroom. With the crazy hours, mile-long “To-do” lists and constantly shifting focus points, it gets a little hectic and we don’t really have time to take a big-picture look at it.

But then something happens to remind us and renew us.

I’ve mentioned before that I believe part of our role as journalists is helping keep government accountable to the people it serves.

I recalled recently a shining-star example of what every journalist should aspire to, in my opinion, and it happened not too far from here.

In January 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that term limits applied in Knox County. With that decision, 12 seats on the county commission went up for grabs as the sitting commissioners became disqualified.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reported extensively on the situation, and they quickly realized politicians were violating Sunshine Law to ensure their favored choices made it to the seats.

Commissioners did not allow public comment, and commissioners did not publicly debate the candidates. They simply nominated and voted; whenever a disagreement arose, they called recess, went to a back room and sorted it out before returning.

Public outcry arose as stories revealed that among the newly appointed commissioners was a former drug dealer and also that another was responsible for a sexual harassment judgment.

Feb. 5, the newspaper filed a lawsuit under the name of its editor, Jack McElroy.

On Sept. 11, 2007, jury selection began. The trial began the following day and continued through 13 days of arguments.

The jury and chancellor found in favor of the newspaper.

The 12 appointed commissioners were removed from office, and the remaining commissioners were required to begin the process anew, but in compliance with the Open Meetings Act.



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