UT Athletic Board goes silent

Victor Ashe
Government/Politics columnist

The UT Athletic Board is meeting behind closed doors after years of being open. The News Sentinel has gone to great lengths to criticize this change.

It is apparent that the university went to great lengths to ensure nothing comes out of the meeting that suggests remotely what is happening. No minutes are taken, and no reports are written. Clearly, they have had legal advice on how to avoid disclosure.

It leads to the inescapable conclusion that there must be some heavy discussion going on inside the meeting room for UT to take the media hit for closed sessions with these instructions to board members and staff on how to stiff the media.

This may have been done without Gov. Bill Haslam’s knowledge or approval. However, he is chair of the board, and a simple word from him to Chancellor Cheek would end this. The board itself, which operates in public, could end it.

We should all remember that the UT board must meet in public to choose a UT president. Why should the Athletic Board be different? UT would not be going to so much trouble to keep it all quiet if there was not something worth hiding. The Athletic Board operated well for many years in public. Why the sudden need to go silent?

■  UT President Joseph DePietro is expected to appoint an internal committee to review the status of the historic Eugenia Williams house on Lyons View Pike. This house was acquired several presidents ago and has languished and deteriorated.

The committee will look at the basic question of what to do with the Staub-designed house and where UT goes from here. One hopes a sensible use can be found. This needs to be resolved since UT has only been embarrassed by it to date while this historic home simply falls down in front of us.

■  Don’t hold your breath, but TVA might consider opening its committee meetings to the public. That is where all its real work occurs. Recently the regional advisory committee that TVA named listed open committee meetings as one of its recommendations to the full board (now short one member). TVA has discussed this in the past but opted to keep them closed every time. Current board chair Bill Sansom has opposed going open.

Given that it is TVA’s own advisory group that has pushed this, TVA will have to respond in some way. It cannot be dismissed. Within the group, the effort to highlight this was led by Anne Davis, head of the Tennessee Office of the Southern Environmental Law Institute and wife of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, and Steve Smith of the Clean Energy group here in Knoxville.

Supporting them was Gov. Haslam’s appointee on the group, Susan Richardson Williams. She is a former TVA board member who unsuccessfully supported open meetings along with former TVA chair Mike Duncan when she served on the board.

■  Almost five years ago in 2009, Knoxvillian Troy Whiteside, who has been active in local politics, was accused of murder. The trial still has not been held. Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols recused himself early in the process, and it was transferred to DA Berkeley Bell of Greeneville. One of his assistants is actually handling the case.

It is now scheduled for trial on April 21 with Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz (who is retiring Sept. 1) to hear it. It is a first-degree murder case with prominent attorney Greg Isaacs representing Whiteside.

The DA expects it to go to trial. The judicial system has worked very slowly in this case.

Correction: Mayor Rogero will not present two budgets to City Council as previously stated in this column, but she has asked department heads to present two budgets to her prior to her single budget going to Council on April 24. One will have 6 percent cuts in her internal budget hearings, which are open to the public. The 6 percent cuts are usually designed to alarm citizens into supporting a tax increase.

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