Friday, May 18, 2012

The document that didnít exist


More than a year ago, the Idaho Legislature expressed its dismay with the long-closeted labor negotiations between local school boards and teachers' unions by passing a law requiring that the talks be conducted in public.

The same law stated clearly that documents connected with the negotiations are to be public as well.

That's why we're still scratching our heads over last week's initial refusal by the Blaine County School District to release a proposed labor contract drafted for consideration by both the teachers and the school board.

We are still aghast at the verbal tussle that ensued when this newspaper asked for a copy of the proposed contract and district representatives threw a hissy fit.

A district spokesman maintained that the document was not a public document and said it would not be released to the public until it had been ratified by both the school board and the teachers.

That position contradicted both the spirit and the letter of the law that was aimed squarely at letting the public know what's going on in regard to the negotiations—while they're happening and before a labor contract is ratified, not after.

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When a newspaper reporter told a district spokesman that withholding the agreement was, in the tried and true vernacular of the West, "B.S."—no, we didn't abbreviate—the spokesman said the reporter could have gotten the document if he had attended the two full days of negotiations.

Later, the spokesman also offered the advice that if the reporter had asked more nicely the district might have released the document. When asked if the district has a policy on exactly how a member of the public must ask for a public document—the words that must be used, the manner in which they must be spoken—the district spokesman began to claim that no document existed at all.

The newspaper then pointed out that the district's own website referred to a "Master Agreement" that was forwarded to the district and the teachers.

While this wrangling was going on, the newspaper also received a voicemail from an administrator with knowledge of the disagreement who said the district "shouldn't have to do the reporter's" job for him. He also said later that the problem with the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is that it sometimes gives people access to things they shouldn't have.

As the discussions wore on, the newspaper forwarded the district a copy of the law. Within the hour, the newspaper received an email containing both minutes of the negotiations and a proposed labor contract—the document that didn't exist.

Problem solved.




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