A House committee on Tuesday voted to keep the MS House of Representatives use of public funds confidential. That is private… As in, none of your business.
I kid you not.
Forget the details for just a minute. I’ll get to that. But, just stop and try to wrap your head around what exactly such a committee vote is communicating to the Mississippi taxpayer:
“Sure, we spend your money. Sure, we manage your business. Sure, we contract with entities to develop policy that determines how your children are educated, how your infrastructure is maintained and how your state agencies operate and regulate your life and livelihood.
“But, no. We’re not going to let you look at how we’re going about making those decisions. And no, we’re not going to let you look at how we are spending the money that influences those decisions, nor are you going to get to see who we are outsourcing the work to, nor why.
“Just pay the bill and butt out, buddy. We’re the government, and we say so. Now, go play.”
Rep. Greg Snowden of Meridian had probably the most honest response so far–honest, but certainly not sufficient–when he said the vote to keep the contract information hidden is being held because it’s always been done that way. I believe that’s been described as the definition of idiocy, hasn’t it? Or is it insanity? It’s not a stretch to describe it as either.
Could there be a more direct way of showing you have something to hide than by announcing to the public that you’re hiding something?
The House Management Committee vote is on par with the bond commission this week voting on new rules to restrict what state debt is appropriate, yet turning around and approving the vast majority of the debt that would be restricted under the new rule anyway.
Calling it a head-scratcher simply isn’t suitable enough a designation.
The House Management Committee voted 7-3 to keep the details of contracts entered into by the MS House of Representatives secret. Specifically the language approved by the committee reads, “All contracts entered into by the House Management Committee shall be confidential and shall not be released to any person or entity, except as specifically directed by the House Management Committee only when the committee deems necessary for the execution of the contract.”
There are often times that public boards must keep private specific information as it relates to a legal defense strategy or a circumstance of state business that requires the discussion of personal and private information of an individual. Those exceptions have been generally understood whether one is talking about a municipal body or any other regional or statewide board ultimately answerable to the public at large.
But, that is not what is being protected in this case. What is being protected in this case are the details of how an organization was hired, and who spent the other half of the $250,000 paid for their services. The taxpayers have been made 50-50 partners with private donors in this project, but we’re not being told who our partners are.
EdBuild is a non-profit organization that advocates for reform in education spending. The group was hired by the leadership in the legislature to audit and recommend changes to the formula Mississippi uses to allocate education dollars.
I’ve pointed to the gobbledygook formula that is the Mississippi Adequate Education Program (MAEP) and advocated for such an audit and a fresh look at education spending for years. It’s an untested formula, an experiment, that has no basis in reality. It has loopholes in it big enough to drive a tank through, and the Mississippi Department of Education and many school districts have made a sport out of finding said loopholes.
You get no argument from me that this kind of crazy bureaucratic shell game should end. But, not by replacing it with another crazy shell-game, which is exactly what the legislative leadership is doing. EdBuild was paid $125,000 of taxpayer money. Who paid the other $125,000 and why? There is no reason that information should remain private. None.
The Mississippi Public Records Act provides the legislature a way to protect the “right to determine the rules of its own proceedings and to regulate public access to its records.”
But just because it can, doesn’t mean it should.
The next time your hear a Mississippi legislator carry on about transparency ask them about keeping non-personnel or non-legal information hidden from the public. If they can’t give a better answer than Rep. Snowden, tell them to sit down and shut up.