That survey of legislative candidates and incumbents on transparency by Nevada Policy Research Institute and the Nevada Press Associated landed in a timely fashion with one of its questions:
“Do you support placing local-government negotiations with public-employee unions under Nevada’s open-meeting law?”
Though the response ratio was underwhelming — only 60 responses out of 161 surveys sent out, mostly from Republicans simpatico with the conservative leanings of NPRI — only three replied to this question with an outright no and one waffled with a maybe.
The consequences of decades of secret public employee union negotiations have been in the headlines of late. North Las Vegas is engaged in tumultuous debate with unions, trying to wrest contract concessions to avoid layoffs and reduction in services. Teachers disrupted a school board meeting when an arbitrator ruled for higher salaries and the superintendent responded with a thousand pink slips. While approving the FY2013 budget county commissioners bemoaned the high cost of pay and benefits for unionized employees.
Each side blamed the other. Had the talks been open to public scrutiny the voters could judge for themselves just who is better serving their needs.
With the exception of teachers, local government employees are among the highest paid in the nation but the ratio of employees to population is among the lowest. Might be a causal relationship there, you think?
Democrat Sheila Leslie of Reno, who lists considerably to the left, gave a no. “I don’t think inviting TV cameras into negotiations with public employee unions is in the best interest of government. There needs to be more transparency and communication but making everything subject to the open-meeting law is not necessarily good government. This is one of those instances.”
That is an answer without an explanation. Why? And why is she concerned about the “best interest of government” instead of the best interests of the governed? The voters can only judge their elected officials if they can see what they are doing.
The only other detailed response came from Republican candidate David Espinosa, who is running in Assembly District 31.
“Negotiations, by their nature, are sensitive matters that an open meeting inclusion would transform into an entrenchment of sides, and an opportunity for grandstanding and demagoguery,” he wrote. “I would instead support all efforts to openly disclose the starting positions of both sides of the negotiation, and the final position of each of the representatives of the local government.”
Yes, sensitive and subject to grandstanding and demagoguery. OK, let us watch and judge ourselves.
People are more likely to make outrageous demands and horse trade behind closed doors.
Thom Reilly, former Clark County manager and now a professor in San Diego, recommends in his new book “Rethinking Public Sector Compensation: What Ever Happened to the Public Interest?” that public union negotiations be subject to state open meeting laws so the voters can see how the negotiations are trending and judge how well their elected officials are minding their interests and wallets. (See more on Reilly’s book in this Friday’s column, available online in the opinion section of The Ely Times.)
Whether this will go anywhere is doubtful since the Legislature itself is not subject to the open meeting law. That was another of the questions.
Read the whole survey here.