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By DAMON LAWRENCE
Candidates seeking to become the 12th District’s next state senator should expect a full vetting before the fall.
The Tennessee Democratic Party has already sent a public information request to the Roane County government seeking to comb through records compiled during Republican candidate Ken Yager’s long tenure as county executive from 1982 to 2006.
The Democrats are requesting to see the following for Yager:
• Travel records from 1982 to 2006.
• Cell phone bills and records from 1982 to 2006.
• List of fixed assets for the office of Roane County executive from 1982 to 2006.
• List of contractors and vendors for the office of Roane County executive from 1982 to 2006.
Yager, now the dean of business and technology at Roane State Community College, expressed confidence that Democrats wouldn’t find any irregularities.
“They’re just on a fishing expedition,” he said.
Democrats aren’t saying what they hope to find. When contacted earlier this week, all Tennessee Democratic Party communication director Wade Munday would say is that it’s standard practice to conduct research on political candidates.
“Every candidate must be thoroughly vetted, particularly one with such a long tenure as his (Yager’s) in a previously held office,” Munday said. “It’s the same as going through someone’s votes in Congress.”
Morgan County Executive and Democrat Becky Ruppe is running against Yager.
She said Republicans have been to Morgan County to look into her past dealings.
“I don’t know if they’ve actually entered a request, but they have been in my county,” Ruppe said. “They have been going through records.”
Yager said the Democrats also asked to see his personnel file at Roane State and every e-mail that he’s sent.
“They won’t find anything there, and they won’t in my records from the county,” Yager said.
A bit of a public records chess game is going on between the county and the Democrats about the records request on Yager.
According to Tennessee law, any state citizen is allowed to inspect public records.
However, when Democrat operative Janet Meek showed up at the Roane County Courthouse, county budget director Alva Moore said he told her the Tennessee Democratic Party is not a citizen.
Meek responded by writing the request in her name on a sheet of notepad paper.
Moore, who worked under Yager, said the county is not trying to be uncooperative.
“They have the right to ask for the information and we will provide it to them, according to law,” Moore said.
In a letter addressed to Meek, Moore writes that the county will try to provide her the information, but it may take some time to compile.
“I am not sure when it will be available, since most of it is stored on the third floor of the courthouse, and it will require some effort and coordination of staff members to obtain,” Moore wrote.
Meek said she doesn’t believe the county is trying to engage in a coverup.
“I take people at their word,” Meek said.
At best, the Democrats will only get a partial look at Yager’s dealings. Moore said records prior to July 1, 2002, have been destroyed.
Laws that govern open records and open meetings have gotten a lot of attention in Roane County and across the state recently.
There was the highly publicized open meetings trial in Knox County, where a jury found the legislative body that governs that county was in violation of the law.
Closer to home, local property assessor candidate Steven Robinette has filed a lawsuit against Roane County over public records. He contends incumbent property assessor Teresa Kirkham failed to provide some cell phone records he asked to see.
Kirkham says the lawsuit is politically motivated.
In another lawsuit against the county, former constable Mark Patton alleges that the county commission violated the open meetings law by discussing the constable vacancy outside of a public meeting. The county contends it did nothing wrong.
Some in the state legislature have also sought to curtail the laws on open government. Yager and Ruppe described themselves as strong supporters of open records and open meetings and indicated they are against attempts to lessen those laws.
“I think everything ought to be open,” Ruppe said. “There shouldn’t be anything done behind closed doors.”
Yager said he always had an open-door policy about records concerning county business and taxpayer money.
“Anything we kept in that office was available to the public at anytime and my views have not changed,” Yager said.