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Chancellor: TSSAA subject to open records law

KRISTIN M. HALL, Associated Press • Dec 10, 2012 at 5:48 AM

NASHVILLE -- A chancery court judge has ruled that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is subject to the Tennessee Open Records Act.

Davidson County Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman ruled in favor of The City Paper in a summary judgment delivered in oral remarks on Friday. The judge agreed that the association was the functional equivalent of a governmental agency.

The Nashville newspaper filed a lawsuit after the athletic association did not provide records pertaining to Montgomery Bell Academy and those pertaining to violations of financial aid rules.

John Williams, the attorney representing the newspaper, said Bonnyman's decision was based on a 2002 opinion by the Tennessee Supreme Court that set a functional equivalency test for private entities that were providing public functions.

The newspaper further argued that the U.S. Supreme Court already determined that the TSSAA's regulatory role could be treated as a state action in another lawsuit between the association and a private high school.

Williams said the ruling sets a precedent in the state that could allow more access to the association's records.

"Anytime an agency or entity is found to be subject to the open records act, then any citizen is entitled to request records," he said.

TSSAA Executive Director Bernard Childress said on Monday that they intend on appealing the ruling.

But the attorney for TSSAA Rick Colbert said just because the chancellor ruled the TSSAA was the functional equivalent of a governmental agency, that doesn't mean that every single record is subject to public disclosure. He said both sides will have to meet again to argue what can be released out of newspaper's request.

"Now that she has answered the threshold question, we have to figure out what it means in regards to the particular request," he said.

He said they can't appeal until there is a final ruling in the case, but said they would likely challenge the chancellor's ruling that TSSAA is subject to the state's open records law. He said TSSAA is involved with a lot of sensitive information surrounding children, financial issues and schools that should not be made public.

"We feel like it's not in the interest of the kids that we are trying to help to have this ruling there," he said.

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