July 31, 2007

Tenn. Gov. Opposes Plan to Fragment Responsibilities of New Open Records Ombuds

A dispute has erupted between Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and State Comptroller John Morgan over the newly created open records ombudsman. Morgan told a panel overseeing the plan that the best plan would be to hire one non-attorney and to divide more complex records questions to his existing legal staff. Morgan unabashedly admitted that he sees the role as not limited to one position.

If somebody looks for the ombudsman, what they'll see is the Office of the Comptroller ... fulfilling that role as a facilitator of access to records. What we don't want to do it get this so wrapped up in the identity of one person that when that person goes on vacation that there's nobody to call," Morgan said.

The Governor, who first proposed creating the ombudsman, said he first heard of the Comptroller's proposal was when asked about it by The Associated Press and responded that he would encourage a different approach. "I think it requires the focus of a relatively senior person and would certainly urge that on him," he said. "My gut feeling is a single senior person is a better direction."

Morgan has said that he plans to advertise within two months for a new staffer who would help field inquires about access to public records. (Associated Press via WKRN Nashville.)

Sounds like Tennessee need an ombuds for its executive branch. But seriously, it sounds like Morgan hasn't taken the time to see how other ombuds offices work. If he did, it would be obvious that there is no benefit to dispersing the responsibilities among other staffers. Morgan's proposal would weaken the ombuds' role because the public would rightly perceive that staffers have an inherent conflict due to their dual roles.

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