News briefs from around Tennessee at 1:58 a.m. EDT

Sunday, March 16, 2014

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Tensions rise over access to local government

It was a chilling crime and, even with a quick arrest, disturbing questions lingered.

Derrick Thompson called 911 in the coastal Maine city of Biddeford to report that he was being threatened. Police checked out the complaint, decided it was a civil matter and left the scene. Three minutes later, the teenager and his girlfriend were shot dead.

In a state averaging 25 murders a year, the case was clearly of public interest and the police officers were doing the public’s business. But answering questions about their handling of the call took a lawsuit, an appeal and 11 months after state prosecutors turned down the Portland Press Herald’s request for 911 transcripts.

The faceoff was eventually settled in the newspaper’s favor by Maine’s top court. But editors, advocates and academics say such situations reflect increasing difficulty getting access to information from statehouses and city halls across the country, as officials broadly interpret exemptions in laws requiring openness.

Tensions between government officials, journalists and watchdog groups are a constant in American life. But while it can be difficult to measure change, observers are troubled by what they see as declining transparency that some say may be abetted by public apathy. Government’s swing away from openness began with post-Sept. 11 security worries, they say, and has been fueled more recently by officials’ concerns about individual privacy, changes in technology and opaque laws on campaign finance.

“There’s a clear trend toward increased secrecy in this country. I see it in my survey research of journalists and I also see it just on the ground, in what’s happening at state capitals and the federal government,” said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona School of Journalism, who studies citizen and press access to public information.

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ETSU professor to study prehistoric shelter

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) - An East Tennessee State University professor has been awarded a grant that will help him study a prehistoric shelter where primitive stone tools were found.

Anthropology professor Jay Franklin told the Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/1cG5Sb4) that he will lead a group that will study the location in the Upper Cumberland Plateau during the warm months. He says they will be trying to learn more about the lives of early Americans.

Franklin says the $12,000 grant from the National Geographic/Waitt Grant Program will fund mapping, travel and radiocarbon testing.

Because the shelter is relatively undisturbed by amateur diggers, he said it could hold very valuable information.

The finds in the shelter so far are representative of tools that were used about 11,000 years ago.

Another interesting fact is that it has a higher elevation and a further distance from water than other shelters from the same era.

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