The Internet is the most useful tool for promoting effective democracy since Gutenberg’s printing press. As our communities rely increasingly on the Internet as their primary source of information, our consideration of Web sites as a primary repository of public information is critical to an informed electorate. For years federal and state governments have taken steps to require an increasing amount of public and governmental information be accessible via the Internet. Following inevitably in lockstep are similar requirements for local governments.
Recognition of this by the Tennessee Legislature occurred with the passage of Public Chapter No. 808 (T.C.A. § 5-1-127). This act requires each Tennessee municipality and county to post its charter of incorporation on a website maintained by the municipality or county. If no such website is maintained, the charter must be posted on the Tennessee secretary of state’s website. Additionally, within three months following any changes or revisions to the charter, the electronic language posted on the website shall be corrected by the municipality or county to reflect such changes or revisions. If your charter has been sent to the secretary of state, their office is not required to keep it current, Your city should send a copy of any amended charter to the secretary of state as soon as possible.
A local charter is the legislatively granted foundation of every local government. Being the expression of municipal power and responsibility, it is imperative that every resident have unfettered access to a charter’s contents. Charters are, of course, open to public inspection under our state’s open records laws. T.C.A. §§ 10-7-501 et seq. Hence, this new requirement is merely an extension of an already existing duty to make public records readily available to your constituents. Logistically, this should pose no significant expenditure of time or resources to city personnel. There are currently electronic copies of the charters of every Tennessee city posted on the MTAS website.
If your city does not maintain its own website and you need assistance posting your charter on the secretary of state’s website, please contact Robert Greene, publications liaison, at (615) 253-4571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.