A couple of years ago, Dr. Larry Burrus wrote to one of the most secretive agencies in the government, and asked if he could get a copy of their policy manual that dictates how the agency deals with the public. Here's what happened next to the MTSU Professor of Journalism...
Six weeks later the manual showed up in the mail. Some phone numbers had been edited out, but there it was: some 60 pages of policy and operating procedures detailing some of the operations of, let me repeat myself, one of the most secret agencies in the government.
So, here's a question: if this super-secret intelligence agency will give me information, why don't commissioners with the Douglas Henry State Museum in Nashville want the public to know how they are supposed to interact with . . . the public.
Apparently, a new policy was discussed at a recent meeting, but when a reporter tried to get a copy of the policy, it was snatched from his hand.
Let's forget for a moment the new commission policy prohibited commission members from talking with the public without prior approval. Many organizations, both in and out of government, have policies restricting contact with the public.
But we're talking about a museum here, not an organization controlling nuclear weapons or spy satellites.
Why in the world would a museum, an organization that is supposed to help spread knowledge, have a secret policy for dealing with the public?
Well, the answer is because some members of the commission have been openly critical about how the commission conducts its business. And the new ethics rules are a clear attempt to muzzle dissent. Or at least keep the dissent away from public eyes and ears.
But here's the thing: the museum commission is a public body. And under Tennessee law, public business is supposed to be open to the public for observation and comment. But even without a law, a public agency should, without question, operate in full public view.
I'm Larry Burriss.