Bill to tighten open records law a mistakeColleges are supposed to be full of smart guys. So why is it that some of the smartest guys in the room are capable of coming up with the dumbest ideas?
By: Tony Bender, The Dickinson Press
Colleges are supposed to be full of smart guys. So why is it that some of the smartest guys in the room are capable of coming up with the dumbest ideas?
Please allow me to quote a writer I admire very much. Me.
“Imagine you own the company that is hiring a new manager. You’ll foot the bill for the search and pay the new manager who will hold this crucial position. Here’s the catch. You don’t get to know who your new employee is until the deal is (almost) done.”
I wrote those words a year ago in reaction to outgoing University of North Dakota President Charles Kupchella’s opinion piece that stated, with no basis in fact — let alone reality — that it was hard finding a candidate to fill his big shoes because these potential “leaders” were too timid to submit resumes for possible public scrutiny. Here’s a hint. Maybe we can speed the process by looking for someone with a giant S on his chest.
Let me continue to plagiarize myself: “The real point here is so obvious I shouldn’t have to make it. North Dakotans foot the bill for our governments and our schools. We are the employers and as such must be accorded the right to know whom we hire and how they perform. And if they can’t stand the heat of the interview, they surely are not up to the job.”
I’m talking about Senate Bill 2087, which would allow the Board of Higher Education to withhold the names of initial candidates and then later reveal the names of the finalists. It sounds innocuous enough, doesn’t it? After all, we’re only closing open records just a wee little bit. The implication here is that we lowly citizens are just not evolved enough to handle such information. Isn’t this sort of thing is best left to the smart guys in their overstuffed leather chairs?
What SB2087 does is grant a special privilege to those who should be smart enough to know better. There are two possibilities here.
If I can figure this out, I must be a genius. (I like this one.) Or…
This is a really dumb idea.
SB2087 opens a can of worms in an effort to solve a problem that does not exist. If the Board of Higher Education can keep the names of their candidates secret, what’s to stop our local city councils, school boards and county commissions from demanding the same ill-advised privilege? Sure the bar is set higher for public servants. It should be.
North Dakota is the Gold Standard of Sunshine Laws and have historically been defended by legislatures and attorneys general from both sides of the aisle. But, if we are going to embrace this new caste system, let’s go all the way. Let the peasants gather in the courtyard and await the puffs of smoke from the ivory tower on campus.
SB2087 is a mistake. The sad fact is, even really smart, well-meaning people make mistakes. Two newspapers I admire very much proved my point about smart guys tripping over their medulla oblongatas by printing editorials in support of SB2087.
But, even newspapers have Good Old Boys, and this is a case of our Good Old Boys compromised journalistic integrity to appease the Good Old Boys in Higher Ed who prefer to make their decisions behind closed doors. After all, this is a Board that has a history of open meetings law violations. So the answer is to grant them the secrecy they so desire?
The two lonely editorials in support of SB2087 bear the fingerprints of one owner. Sure, ownership has its privileges, but the next time you watch a Vikings game, imagine owner Ziggy Wilf trotting out to attempt the winning field goal.
The Fargo Forum editorial lamely suggested that there was no news value in the first round of applications. Fine. The solution is easy. Just don’t cover it. Instead the editorial seems to scream, “Stop us before we report!” They also suggest that this small compromise of liberty is somehow OK.
Everyone from the pressman to the janitor in that building knows better.
The Forum and Grand Forks Herald have stellar track records of defending open records, but this is one giant fumble. One owner trying to pull the strings of the legislature does not speak for the 88 other newspapers in North Dakota. In contrast, the ND Newspaper Association Board of Directors has unanimously rejected this appeasement.
Newspaper ownership has an obligation to look out for the best interests of his business, but equally sacred is the obligation to defend the rights of the people who count on newspapers to be champions of the people. Last week, someone forgot that.
Our legislators have the same obligation to the citizens of North Dakota. Making the Board of Higher Education less accountable to those people would be a mistake.
— Bender is a North Dakota Newspaper Association director.