Gov. Bill Lee issued executive order No. 16 to ensure government operations continue to function openly and transparently during the COVID-19 emergency while taking measures to protect the health and safety of citizens and government officials.

“We at Tennessee Coalition for Open Government are very pleased with this outcome,” said Tennessee Coalition for Open Government executive director Deborah Fisher. “The order allows essential government business to continue. We need to give governing bodies across the state tools to do this. The order includes several key safeguards for public transparency that we think are important and reasonable considering the COVID-19 epidemic.”

The order allows governing bodies to meet and conduct “essential business by electronic means, rather than being required to gather a quorum of members physically present at the same location, if the governing body determines that the meeting electronically is necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of Tennesseans in light of the COVID-19 outbreak” subject to certain conditions.

Conditions for electronic meetings include:

• The meeting must be open and accessible to the public by electronic means. Each governing body must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the public access to the meeting via electronic means is live access, but if the governing body cannot provide such live public access despite reasonable efforts, the governing body must make a clear audio or video recording of the meeting available to the public as soon as practicable following the meeting, and in no event more than two business days after the meeting.

• Governing bodies are urged to provide the public with clear notice of the meeting agenda and how the public can access the meeting electronically at a time and place reasonably accessible to all members of the public.

• All meetings shall be conducted in a manner consistent with the Tennessee Constitution, which states in part, “That the printing press shall be free to every person to examine the proceedings of the legislature; or of any branch or officer of the government, and no law shall ever be made to restrain the right thereof.”

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