When a city council, county board of supervisors or school board votes on a contract, that contract is usually available to the public in advance of the meeting where the vote will take place. But when a contract with a government employee union is up for approval, the details are kept secret until after the contract is approved, stopping any meaningful public comment. Why? Peter Scheer of the First Amendment Coalition explains:
- In the mid-1990s [government employee] unions backed improvements to the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law, but also inserted a provision assuring that the public would have no access to collective bargaining agreements negotiated by cities and counties — often representing 70% or more of their total operating budgets — until after the agreements are signed.
- What happens when voters and the press have no opportunity to question elected officials about how they propose to pay for a lower retirement age, health care for retirees’ dependents, richer pension formulas and the like?
- The officials make contractual promises that are unaffordable, unsustainable (and, in general, don’t come due until after those elected officials have left office).
- In the case of Vallejo, in northern California, this veil of secrecy, and the symbiotic relationship it fosters, has led to municipal bankruptcy.