Following Public Records Request, State Legislature Votes To Make Government Contracts Secret

from the but-thanks-for-asking dept

A public records request is seemingly behind the Mississippi state legislature's speed decision to make even more legislative documents exempt from public records laws.

Mississippi Today asked for copies of the state's already-signed contract with EdBuild. The nonprofit company was handed $250,000 to begin working on an overhaul of the state's "Adequate Education Program" [how inspiring!], which determines school funding. Seems like the sort of thing that would be of interest to the public.

The state legislature doesn't agree its constituents should have any background information on something affecting the schools they send their children to.

Faced with a public records request from Mississippi Today for the state’s contract with EdBuild, a legislative committee voted Tuesday to adopt a new policy mandating that all contracts it approves be confidential.

The House Management Committee, which approves contracts entered into by the House of Representatives, used a voice vote to pass the policy, which states “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.”

Apparently just knowing its money is being spent should be good enough for the state's residents. All other details are best left in the hands of those deciding how the public's money will be spent. The public is being thrown a belated bone with a comment period that arrives after the contract has already been approved. Comments at the one-hour meeting are limited to three minutes each and commenters will have zero information work with.

This wasn't the vote the committee was supposed to engage in. The session in which the new restriction was passed was originally supposed to be used to discuss whether or not the legislature would release the contract to Mississippi Today. Rather than decide the fate of a single set of documents, the legislature granted themselves a broad exception to public records law.

In Mississippi, that's something the legislature is allowed to do.

Before the policy was passed, the Legislature essentially controlled its own rules about which records are public and which are not. The Mississippi Public Records Law says nothing in the law “shall be construed as denying the Legislature the right to determine the rules of its own proceedings and to regulate public access to its records.”

So much for transparency and accountability. Instead, Mississippi residents are asked to blindly trust their representatives. According to one legislator quoted in the piece, the only thing the state's public records law actually can pry loose from representatives is travel records.

Many legislators seem to prefer an uninformed electorate. This allows them to push their own agendas, rather than those of their constituents. Every few years, an appearance of caring is projected as voters are courted, but as soon as they're back in office, the only input they appear to want is monetary.

Contract information -- especially on awarded contracts -- should not be considered a de facto secret. The public deserves to know how its money is being spent. As it stands in Mississippi, the public is only going to be told its money is being spent. Everything else is just none of their business.

Filed Under: contracts, mississippi, public records, transparency


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  • identicon
    bob, 29 Nov 2016 @ 3:04pm

    probably won't happen

    Sounds like it is time for the constituents to pull a referendum vote on the leaders and get them out of office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 4:39pm

      Re: probably won't happen

      They have electronic voting machines and constituents that consume Fox News and Infowars. Good luck with that.

      The people may not have the government they want, but they have the one they deserve.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 5:09pm

        Re: Re: probably won't happen

        Probably the only news outlet that is searching for how the state is spending tax money found the roadblock. Meanwhile, the public are fed lines that the media is corrupt and spreading lies.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 5:13pm

        Re: Re: probably won't happen

        You lefties, and the Fox News Boogie Man!! I just find it so funny. Tell me what has Obama done? Well besides screw up so many people's health care. Which they passed in the middle of the night without a single Republican Vote!!!! You know, because that's how Government should work,...Oh wait,....

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2016 @ 11:03am

          Re: Re: Re: probably won't happen

          Yup - Obama did nothing and that proves that Fox is real news, does not lie, is fair and balanced, pets little puppies, feeds the hungry unicorns and is generally a really nice corporation.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 1 Dec 2016 @ 2:32am

          Re: Re: Re: probably won't happen

          Lefties? Here's a leftie outfit: @jacobinmag

          Learn what words mean.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Niall (profile), 2 Dec 2016 @ 6:59am

          Re: Re: Re: probably won't happen

          Well, you Righties and your Obama/Clinton/Soros boogeymen, propped up by ABC/NBC/MSN/CBC etc...

          You mean the healthcare originated by the right-wing Heartland Institute, trialled by Republican would-be President Mitt Romney, and very much in the Democratic Party's 2008 manifesto? Supposedly using a manoeuvre that the Republicons would never ever do?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        I.T. Guy, 30 Nov 2016 @ 7:26am

        Re: Re: probably won't happen

        "Fox News and Infowars"
        LOL!!! Idiot.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 3:07pm

    Sounds like some one's stealing or accepting kickbacks (or in this case a whole committee)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 29 Nov 2016 @ 3:25pm

    Well, duh!

    The public deserves to know how its money is being spent

    Yeah, didn't you guys fight a war with us over that at some point? I vaguely remember, "no taxation without representation" being a thing at some point... right?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Thad, 29 Nov 2016 @ 3:34pm

      Re: Well, duh!

      Not really the same thing (they are being represented; they're being represented by the elected officials who just voted to make these records a secret), but yeah, it does ultimately come down to keeping the government accountable to the governed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2016 @ 5:25am

        Re: Re: Well, duh!

        The constituents have never been properly represented, those that govern do so in their own self interest and few even consider doing anything for those less fortunate.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 3:45pm

    What was that whole saying our representatives love to use? Something like "If you've done nothing wrong..." something something something...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 5:26pm

      Re:

      If you've done nothing wrong, the government expects that you will let them search you unconstitutionally.

      On the other hand, the government constantly does wrong, so therefor they expect that you will not get to search them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2016 @ 5:26am

      Re:

      If you've done nothing wrong...you will soon and therefore need to be locked up.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Nov 2016 @ 2:03pm

      Re:

      Legislators won't be able to concentrate on their jobs unless their identities are kept secret.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 4:46pm

    If they have nothing to hide ...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 5:06pm

    Who The F___ to they think they are?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 29 Nov 2016 @ 8:17pm

    The more they try to rule like royalty and control people's lives the faster that control will slip through their fingers

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Nov 2016 @ 8:51pm

    Deal

    The legislature is absolutely allowed to treat state contracts as though they were personal, confidential contracts between the two parties signing said contract.

    However, given those contracts and the details thereof are going to be treated as personal contracts between the legislature and the companies/individuals, they should be required to spend their own personal money on the contracts, and forbidden from spending so much as a single cent of taxpayer money.

    If they want to claim that the public has no say in the contracts, and is barred from knowing any of the details then they can have fun paying the contracts out of their pockets, rather than the pockets of the public. Conversely if they're going to be using taxpayer money then those same people paying those taxes have every right to know how their money is being spent, if for no other reason than to be able to object if they feel it's being spent poorly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Nov 2016 @ 9:14pm

    If a contract isn't something the government can gleefully boast about the details, it's reasonable to assume it's a bad or corrupt contract. Either the government is paying too much money for what they're getting, they're paying for proverbial snake oil, or the contract has agreements or stipulations that are detrimental to the public, or that the public would otherwise object to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 30 Nov 2016 @ 1:54am

    I suspect this would fail under existing laws and possibly a Constitutional probe. I wonder if somebody will sue over this?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ShadowNinja (profile), 30 Nov 2016 @ 5:40am

    Hey, Mississippi has got to keep their schools #50 in the nation somehow!

    What better way to do that than to keep people uninformed about how their failing schools are being run?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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