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Pry open those contracts

We oppose the hide-and-seek approach of public bodies toward newly negotiated employee contracts. We support a bill to guarantee contract transparency.

Published: Thursday, March 21, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

The new contract between Dixon teachers and the school board, hammered out last week after a 9-day strike, was made public Tuesday – finally.

The public “unveiling” came after Dixon Education Association members ratified the contract, and one day before the Dixon School Board was scheduled to approve it.

Sauk Valley Media quickly placed the 55-page document online so the public could read it. As of mid-afternoon Wednesday, nearly 100 people had.

The contract’s delayed release is better than the original secrecy scheme hatched by teachers and the school board. They agreed to keep the contract a secret until both parties OK’d it, which, sad to say, is standard operating procedure for public employee contracts in Illinois.

We objected editorially. An SVM reporter filed a Freedom of Information Act request to receive a copy. And now, the contract has been made public.

A proposed new law filed by a freshman lawmaker from Wheaton would put an end to this goofy game of contract hide-and-seek.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican, filed legislation last month that is very much to our liking.

House Bill 2689 would require all newly negotiated contracts between unions and public-sector employers (school districts, cities, counties, the state, etc.) to be posted for at least 14 days on the public body’s website.

Further, after at least 14 days, the public entity would be required to convene an open meeting and receive public comments before a vote is taken.

Ives said the bill would help elected board members, public employees, and the public know better the contents of proposed contracts and what they would cost taxpayers.

She cited one instance where Hinsdale School Board members had only 30 minutes to review a new contract before voting on it.

“That’s utter nonsense, because these contract provisions aren’t just about pay, they’re also about work structure and time off and sick day accumulation, everything that adds to the cost of the contract, so we need to know whether or not we can afford it,” Ives said in an interview.

“This is not something that just I’m calling for,” Ives said. “It’s something that the media has been calling for and certainly the taxpayer.”

We salute Rep. Ives for her efforts to require transparency in newly negotiated public employee contracts.

We urge area lawmakers to climb on board as co-sponsors.

Taxpayers must pay for these contracts. Ives’ bill would guarantee them more of a say.

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