Open government seems to be a Washington State value, at least since the Public Disclosure Commission was created by voter initiative in 1972. Allowing the public to know what government officials are doing is a right here that voters protect.
Perhaps that’s why the elected commissioners in Lincoln County – a rural county outside of Spokane known for its wheat production – decided earlier this month to open up contract negotiations with its employees to public view. According to a column in the Spokesman Review, its commissioners were very straight-forward in explaining their decision: “Commissioners Scott Hutsell and Mark Stedman emphasized the philosophical importance of openness when elected public servants negotiate with hired public servants. ‘What do we have to hide from our citizens?’ Stedman asked.”
Predictably, as Shift has written about in the past, the union leaders on the other side of that bargaining table are not too keen on the idea of the public knowing what they are putting on the table. Instead, they are trying to muscle the commissioners, and threatening legal action. Again, the Spokesman, “Teamsters would prefer not to go the legal battle route but ‘we’ll have to take this on’” said Joe Kuhn, Business Agent for Teamsters Local No. 690.
Of course, the Teamsters don’t want a legal battle. They just want the county to think it will have to go to court to follow its own ordinance to be open with the public, and as one commissioner said “The feedback from county residents has been positive and my principle isn’t going to change, but if it comes down to we don’t have the money to fight it, that will be it.”
And that will be an unfortunate day, if the union threat forces the commission to go back behind closed doors.