- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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Feb. 10

The Daily Times of Maryville on the Tennessee Valley Authority:

This is an easy one. Tennessee’s 2nd District Congressman Tim Burchett has chosen to make his first legislation require the Tennessee Valley Authority board of directors to hold open meetings. How simple is that? How odd that it’s not already so.



Simply stated, here’s what Burchett’s bill would do: Amend the Tennessee Valley Authority Act of 1933 to include a section on transparency. It would require meetings of the TVA board and subcommittees to be held in public, be properly noticed, and make available minutes and summaries of each meeting.

How hard is that? Too hard apparently for TVA President and CEO Bill Johnson who has met with Burchett to urge him to drop his effort to open this public utility to public scrutiny.

The word “public” is key to understanding the untenable position TVA is taking. The agency maintains claim to its public mandate - which this newspaper continues to support - but behaves like a private entity.

Withholding comment on Burchett’s bill, a TVA spokesman said the agency never takes a position on legislation. Given that TVA was created by a legislative act, that position is just a dodge.

TVA did offer this. “TVA works hard to be transparent while serving nearly 10 million people across seven states. In addition to public meetings on a host of topics and the TVA Board of Directors’ public listening sessions and business meetings, we offer numerous public comment periods associated with potential policies and actions, provide simple instructions for submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, and file detailed financial reports with the Securities and Exchange Commission. We remain committed to following all federal laws and requirements for public comment and disclosure.”

Except for when they don’t. Take a clear example of TVA’s foggy thinking. Clicking on TVA’s website to the newsroom page brings viewers to one headline that reads, “Kingston - A Legacy of Promises Kept.” The premise is almost laughable, except that it’s so tragic. Ask people who have lived - and watched loved ones die - in the aftermath of the 7.3 million tons of coal ash that spilled at the TVA Kingston Fossil Plant in 2008.

TVA ratepayers could be on the hook for the cost of misdeeds by a cleanup company responsible for exposing workers to toxic chemicals, as reported by the Knoxville News Sentinel. Who promised that?

Enter Burchett again, this time with an ally from across the aisle and the state. The Knoxville Republican wrote a letter with Memphis Democrat U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen to TVA’s Johnson demanding explanations as to why the agency hired Jacobs Engineering for the cleanup, given the firm’s history, and why TVA continues the relationship.

Instead of improving lives in the Tennessee Valley, the letter states, “it seems that TVA’s irresponsible actions have achieved the opposite effect - more than 40 workers have died, including at least two TVA employees, and more than 400 are sick.”

In a discussion with The Daily Times, Burchett said he was surprised when he learned of TVA’s lack of transparency and how long it has existed.

“There’s a great deal of arrogance there. I know they’re the biggest guy on the playground but I pay their rates, I pay their fees, and if they’re gonna play in the public utility sandbox then they’re going to have to play by the rules.”

Burchett’s words. Our concurrence. Like it or not, TVA leadership needs to accept responsibility for a public trust. Since TVA claims to be playing by the existing rules, it’s high time for a new rule that makes it clear that they’re not. Burchett’s bill does that.

What it needs now is bipartisan support in the House and a sponsor in the Senate. He’s skeptical about both. “TVA is a sacred cow, and I understand that, but sacred cows need a little proddin’.”

That’s the congressman’s take. To that we add that Congress needs a little proddin’, too. Pass this bill.

Online: http://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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Feb. 7

The Pacer (University of Tennessee at Martin college newspaper) on Black History Month:

As February rolls around each year, we find ourselves looking back at a time in history that is, by no exaggeration, appalling.

During this time we also find ourselves looking forward to a day still to come, that activists everywhere see as a dream. We’re looking forward to a day of complete equality. We’re looking forward to a day of acceptance between all people.

The history of the U.S. is still progressing, obviously, because time is moving forward, but even with that in mind, it’s glaringly obvious how short-lived our “history” has been up to this point.

After all, America still has the beauty of her youth.

February is a month where people all over our country reflect on the progress we’ve made in voting, politics, socio-economic development, culture, love and so many more categories.

February, as Black History Month, is a time where our country is reminded of the hurt we’ve caused others and the ways we can grow, and that perspective should always be reported on.

There’s a common saying that “those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it,” and that thought alone is enough to drive home the importance of re-teaching and re-learning something each year.

Black History Month will always have new perspectives telling the story, and as long as there are stories to be told, journalists will be covering it.

Sure, we can pull out the last four years’ issues of The Pacer from February and see each one with the Civil Rights Conference’s poster on the front, but that’s because this event isn’t just special for our campus. It is special for our society.

Celebrating black history and trying to understand the cultures of fellow Americans is essential to being an accepting and well-functioning society. Without a memory jog each February, we might not progress the way we are now.

Online: http://www.thepacer.net/

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Feb. 12

Johnson City Press on directors of schools:

Schools should be managed by professional educational administrators, not politicians whose concerns lie in re-election.

The Tennessee General Assembly knew that in 1992 when it converted elected public school superintendents to appointed directors of schools as part of a sweeping reform act.

But in the years since, lawmakers repeatedly have tried to roll back that common-sense approach in favor of a return to good-old-boy cronyism. Why? Armchair quarterbacks - backroom political brokers, parents and even teachers - with unsatisfied agendas often rally legislators to revert the state into politicized schooling.

As Senior Reporter Robert Houk reported in Sunday’s edition, the latest attempt is from state Sen. Dolores Gresham, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, who proposes giving voters the ability to retain or reject their local director with a “yes or no” ballot. Washington County’s own Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, told the Press he was carrying the bill in the House at Gresham’s request and would be “following her lead on this bill.”

Your children deserve better than “following.” Partisanship, rabble-rousing and political whims are no way to operate schools. We have enough of those manipulations at the federal, state and local governing levels without sneaking them back into daily decision-making.

Voters already have a significant voice at the ballot box in how schools are operated. They elect the Boards of Education tasked with appointing, evaluating and ultimately choosing whether to retain school directors. As Johnson City Board of Education member Kathy Hall put it, each school board is elected by the community to represent them on school matters.

“The school superintendent is the only employee of the school board, and he or she should answer to it,” said Hall, who also serves as president of the Tennessee School Boards Association.

At least one local lawmaker agrees. Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who also serves on the Senate’s Education Committee, thinks it best to leave the director’s employment in the hands of school board members. He said the current process has given local communities, particularly more rural counties, a wider field when it comes to finding and hiring the most qualified candidates for the job.

On the other hand, Sen. Rusty Crowe, another Education Committee member, said he would like to see the retention vote used as an “evaluation tool” for school board members at contract time.

Voters already have that tool on election day.

In our experience, parents are not shy about holding school board members accountable when it comes to controversial or underperforming school leaders. Experience also tells us that these situations usually resolve themselves via self-selection. Directors often hit the road when major heat is applied.

There’s good reason only three states - Florida, Mississippi and Alabama - still have elected superintendents in 2019. Two of the three consistently fall below Tennessee in K-12 school performance standards.

Daily school operations should not be a popularity contest. Results should be the chief test of a school leader’s effectiveness, and a school board member unwilling to follow such standards has no place in office.

This wrongheaded bill is just a backdoor step of eventually putting the director’s position back on the ballot altogether. The Legislature should reject it.

Online: https://www.johnsoncitypress.com/

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