Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Rochester Board Stumbles Again During Sunshine Week

I find it quite ironic that every year the Rochester School Board finds some way to stumble in it's dealings with the public during "Sunshine Week", which is the celebration of the Freedom of Information Act.

Here's a great editorial from the Free Press recognizing the official "Sunshine Week".

Detroit Free Press: SUNSHINE WEEK: Break the secrecy (3/10/07)

Two years ago this week, the board held a special session to discuss the Open Meetings Act, and specificially address a potential violation for a meeting earlier in the year that did not allow public comment. There were also questions of contract discussions that improperly took place in closed session. And if that wasn't enough, a citizen alleged that the board failed to post a notice that they were holding the meeting, which is a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

It was one year ago this week that the Rochester School Board tried to eliminate comments from the Board minutes, and subsequently restrict the information made available to the public. That decision was eventually reversed after a fight at the board table, a wonderful op-ed from Trustee Steven Kovacs, and an outcry from citizens and some of the local newspapers.

(The meeting minutes are still awkward; you can't tell who comments on items and who does not. Comments are preceeded with "One board member said..." And, board members are not allowed to place official "for the record" comments in the minutes. But, that was part of the compromise in order to stop the majority on the board from removing all information.)

And now this year I see the board in yet another situation where they are not acting in the public's best interests.

The board reached a tentative agreement with it's teacher's union. It's a three year deal, and this one contract represents over 55% of the districts annual expenditures.

Assuming that the Tentative Agreement is ratified by the union membership, I believe it's in the public's interest for this board to release the details of the agreement to the public as soon as reasonably possible.

I can understand why the union would want to keep the information confidential until they have had a chance to fully present the plan to it's members and answer any and all questions. That is quite reasonable.

However, once the vote is taken - and assuming it's approved - I can think of no compelling reason to keep the contract details confidential.

I believe the Rochester Board is doing the public a disservice by withholding disclosure of the details until the board meeting of March 26. The only information that will be available to the public prior to the board's vote will be made that night, presumably 10 - 20 minutes before the vote. The only feedback the board will receive from the public will be from those that are in attendance, and they will have an unreasonably brief time to consider those details before sharing their thoughts with us.

I believe the public has a right to know, and the board should attempt to be a open as reasonably possible.

==> Mike.

1 comment:

David Zemens said...

Is there any hope for transparency and honesty at *any* level of local government?

I must admit I am becoming increasingly more disgusted with the high handed manner that our *local* elected officials use when dealing with *our* money. I think many of them forget that they are not the CEO of a private enterprise, but rather a public official entrusted with the public's dollars.