Case Number: 22-0902
Court: Chancery Court of Tennessee for the Eleventh Judicial District at Chattanooga
Client: Chattanooga Publishing Company
Complaint Filed: Dec. 15, 2022
Background: In May 2022, the Chattanooga City Council voted to approve new voting districts for future city council elections. But months of work that led up to the public vote was done behind closed doors.
The city council created an ad hoc committee tasked with making a redistricting recommendation, but none of its meetings were open to the public, nor were they publicly noticed. The same was true of meetings between city council members and members of the city’s staff, during which they fleshed out details of redistricting maps.
On behalf of the Chattanooga Publishing Company, Paul McAdoo, the Reporters Committee’s Local Legal Initiative attorney for Tennessee, filed this lawsuit against the Chattanooga City Council, alleging that the closed-door meetings violated Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act.
Quote: “During the redistricting process, it was clear that there were some pretty egregious violations of the state’s open meeting law,” said Alison Gerber, editor of the Times Free Press. “The public should have had a window into the process, and input in the process, yet it was done behind closed doors.”
Related: In 2020, McAdoo sued the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance on behalf of several Tennessee news media and open government organizations, including Chattanooga Publishing, alleging that the agency violated the Open Meetings Act when it secretly voted by email to significantly reduce fines levied against a state lawmaker. A judge later ruled in the news organizations’ favor, finding that the agency did indeed break the law. In an apparent outgrowth of the successful lawsuit, state lawmakers passed a bill in 2022 strengthening campaign finance and ethics rules to make clear that the Registry is required to hold public meetings — with advance public notice — when it settles campaign finance penalties it has assessed that exceed $25,000.