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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A Rarity: Judge Tosses Officials From Office for Sunhine Violations

A judge threw a dozen elected officials out of their jobs because they were hand-picked behind closed doors, dealing a severe blow to secrecy that open-government advocates hope serves as a warning to other cities and counties.

The Knoxville News Sentinel and a citizens group sued the Knox County Commission, alleging it violated the state's Open Meetings Act in January, when it filled vacancies for eight commissioners and four countywide officers, including the sheriff.

"This is a spark that could catch fire in Knox County and spread throughout the nation," said attorney Herb Moncier, who represented the citizens group. "The people took back their government."

The vacancies arose because of a Jan. 12 ruling by the state Supreme Court, which upheld term limits prohibiting county officeholders from serving more than two consecutive four-year terms. All 12 of the officials had exceeded that, including some re-elected only a few months before.

County commissioners met on Jan. 31 to fill the positions, but the jury found that commissioners deliberated and voted in secret. Secret deliberations continued during recesses in the meeting, and the vacancies were filled with what Moncier described as "relatives, cronies and supporters."

More here.

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