Occupy Murfreesboro (located outside Nashville, TN) contends that the city’s legal department has failed to comply with state open records law and the city’s own charter regarding the public’s inability to view a current codified version of Murfreesboro City Code.
Occupy protester Ben Spencer’s request for information last week came after Occupy protesters started receiving nightly citations from Murfreesboro Police officers for violating the city’s 1993 ordinance prohibiting camping on the Murfreesboro Civic Plaza.
Protesters have complained that the ordinance, which was amended in 2001 and bans them from camping on Civic Plaza, isn’t listed in a codified version of the city’s ordinances made available to the public in the city’s Linebaugh Public Library.
Spencer said that when he attempted to view an updated version of the Murfreesboro city code book last week at the city attorney’s office, he was told it had not been updated since 1993, and thus the format he was requesting the information in didn’t yet exist.
“For the codes that had passed since 1993, they said they could pull ordinances from their files based on a question about a certain topic,” Spencer said. For instance, Spencer could ask for any ordinance that has passed since 1993 that is related to protesting.
Spencer said the incident left him wondering, “How is a citizen of Murfreesboro able to know the laws?”
It also left him asking “Why is it OK for the city to violate its own charter,” which reads that “every ordinance and resolution passed or adopted by the city council shall be taken charge of by the city recorder, and either be copied into or be shown or spread upon the minutes of the city council and indexed, or be copied into or filed in a book kept for the purpose, indexed, and preserved in his/her office.”
City attorney Susan McGannon explained the city’s stance on the issue in a Monday interview with The Daily News Journal.
“We were trying to facilitate (Mr. Spencer’s) access because the code book is out of date,” she explained. “He was told, accurately, that the city code book had not been updated in some years. Copies of the ordinances are available for public inspection, but they are in separate ordinance files.
While McGannon acknowledged that a codified version of the city’s ordinances would be more useful for a resident searching for a particular ordinance based on a topic, public records law does not require the ordinances to be codified.
Tennessee Coalition for Open Government Director Frank Gibson also confirmed that a municipality is not required to produce records that do not exist.
In other news, the spotlights shining on Occupy Murfreesboro on Civic Plaza were turned off Tuesday after members delivered a letter asking the lights be removed. The spotlights have illuminated City Plaza since Dec. 5, when Occupy Murfreesboro began their protests there. Protesters also asked that police presence around the plaza be returned to normal, according to a news release from Occupy Murfreesboro.
“In addition to the waste of taxpayer dollars, Occupy Murfreesboro recognizes that increased police presence can have a negative impact on local businesses, creating the illusion of danger where none exists,” the release states. “Occupy Murfreesboro supports locally owned businesses: they are the 99 percent. … Occupy Murfreesboro is a peaceful social movement focused on removing corporate money from politics, returning the power of government to the people, and creating a more just world,” the release continues. “Their presence on civic plaza is a symbolic statement that public space belongs to the people. It is also a practical protest method that puts them in proximity to the local political power structure, facilitating the people’s access to government offices and officials.”
Occupy Murfreesboro holds a public assembly at 7 p.m. Monday through Friday on the plaza. For more information, visit occupymurfreesboro.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.