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Our View: Shed light on details in contracts

Published: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 7:39 p.m. CDT

This sentence in Northwest Herald reporter Jeff Engelhardt's story this week regarding McHenry County College and full-time faculty coming to a contract agreement is all too familiar:

"Details of the deal will not be made available until both the McHenry County College Faculty Association and the college's board of trustees approve the contract, said college spokeswoman Christina Haggerty."

Why is it acceptable to keep the public in the dark about how its money is being spent until it's too late? Why do public bodies believe it is acceptable to spend large sums of taxpayer dollars without telling the public how those dollars are being allocated?

MCC isn't the only guilty party. This year, Crystal Lake-based School District 155 and McHenry-based School District 156 also approved new contracts with teachers without the public being allowed to see the details before a final vote was taken.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, wants more transparency. So do local state Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake; and Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake.

Ives introduced House Bill 4268, which 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. McSweeney, Tryon and Wheeler are co-sponsors of the bill.

Unfortunately, the legislation has failed to get out of Jack Franks' State Government Administration Committee. At a recent hearing, Franks, D-Marengo, told Ives he liked the bill but wanted to broaden its scope to all contracts.

There's nothing stopping public bodies from releasing contract details before a public vote. These units of government choose to hide the information from the public. It's unfortunate that we need legislation demanding public bodies do the right thing instead of public bodies doing the right thing on their own.

We applaud Ives for her commitment to transparency, and we are pleased to see local lawmakers get on board. This bill deserves to get out of committee and onto the floor for debate and passage.

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