The Tennessee lottery board will meet in secret when it picks a law firm to replace one rejected last week by Gov. Phil Bredesen despite a general inclination to "make things as open as possible," the chairman said Tuesday.
The selection process begins today when Denny Bottorff, chairman of the Tennessee Education Lottery Corp., and two other board members meet as a subcommittee to establish the criteria that a lottery law firm must meet.
At one point Tuesday an announcement was sent to media members declaring that today's subcommittee meeting on criteria - to be conducted by conference call - would be closed to the public.
That statement was subsequently changed to declare the meeting open and Bottorff blamed a "miscommunication." Most other steps in the application process and presentations made by law firms will also be public, he said.
But the final decision will be made behind closed doors, he said.
"The principle that we sort of laid out was that all decisions that are deliberation about personnel matters we would do in private," Bottorff said. "What we don't want to do is something that makes somebody not apply because they don't want to have the traits and characteristics of their law firm compared in public to the traits and characteristics of another law firm."
The state law creating the lottery board grants the seven-member panel broad authority to keep matters confidential when it sees fit. That is contrary to the state's general "open meetings law," though the general law also grants an exception for meetings to discuss personnel matters.
Bottorff said he considered a discussion of law firms to be a discussion of personnel.
"All a law firm has to sell is the capability of its people," he said.
Joining Bottorff on the subcommittee will be board members Jim Ripley of Sevierville and Deborah Story of Nashville. The subcommittee will come up with a list of "finalists" that will be presented to the board on Aug. 14 for a vote.
Bredesen initially named the Nashville firm of Bass Berry and Sims as the lottery board's legal counsel, but reversed that decision within 24 hours after criticism over the firm's close ties to top-ranking members of his administration. Bredesen has also called for lottery matters to be decided in "as open a process as possible" while saying he wants the board he appointed to be independent.
In a meeting with reporters on Tuesday, the governor said he has mixed feelings about another looming lottery issue - whether to partner with the Georgia Lottery - and will leave a decision completely to the board.
Georgia Lottery president, Rebecca Paul, appeared before the board on Monday to propose a "strategic alliance" between the two state lottery operations. She said that could mean starting lottery ticket sales by Thanksgiving, months ahead of the current schedule.
Bredesen said Paul had outlined the concept to him in an earlier meeting. He said, "I don't see a hidden agenda" to benefit Georgia at Tennessee's expense. Tennesseans "need to at least suspect being led down the garden path."
The governor said he will not make a fuller evaluation of the proposal, which has yet to be detailed, and does not intend to make a recommendation. That will be left to board members, he said.
"I would frankly trust them to make that evaluation and will support whichever way they want to go," he said.