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Local Editorials

Editorial: Make tentative contracts public

Public bodies don’t need a law to require them to make tentative contracts public prior to final approval. They can release the documents on their own. Voters should insist on it.

On Feb. 1, 2014, we published an editorial titled “Open tentative contracts to public scrutiny.”

In it, we called for openness for tentative public employee contracts – specifically, after a contract has been negotiated, and after it has been approved by the public employees union, but before it has been approved by the public body, such as a city council, school board, county board, and so forth.

There is no law that says a contract can’t be released before the elected board votes on it. It’s just customary to keep it a secret until after it is approved.

We wrote in 2014:

“After a tentative agreement is reached, negotiators for both sides usually take the stance that it’s none of the public’s business what the contract contains. The taxpayers who foot the bill traditionally aren’t allowed to see it until the union members ratify it and the board or council casts its vote in the affirmative.

“Such a closed, clubby process sticks in our craw.”

We noted that after union members vote to ratify, the school board or city council “gains no advantage by keeping the details under wraps.”

Last week, the Dixon school board withheld details of its new contract with teachers until after the board voted to approve the deal in special session Wednesday night. School Superintendent Margo Empen, when asked 2 days ahead of the vote to release the contract details, declined.

Our editorial last week, “District wrong to withhold contract details,” published the day of the special session, pointed out that the school district released the previous tentative contract in 2013 ahead of the final board vote. Only 1 day ahead, we might add, but it was better than nothing.

We renew our call for the Illinois General Assembly to approve legislation, along the lines of a bill backed by state Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, in 2014, that would require newly negotiated contracts between public employee unions and public-sector employers to be posted online for at least 14 days before any action is taken.

Further, a public hearing would be required on the tentative contract, where members of the public could comment on it, before a vote is taken.

Ives’ bill failed to advance, but the cause of openness and accountability in government need not falter.

Public bodies have the authority to make tentative contracts available for public scrutiny before voting on them.

Voters should insist that their elected representatives on those local boards and councils do so.

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