Local governments can improve transparency and accountability by opening secret collective bargaining sessions to the public
- State and local government employment contracts should not be negotiated in secret.
- Citizens have a right to know how public spending decisions are made on their behalf.
- Lincoln County, and Pullman and Tukwila School Districts have recently ended secrecy and embraced government employee contract transparency.
- Contract transparency is currently the norm in several states across the country.
- According to a statewide poll, 76% of Washington voters support opening government employee contract negotiations.
Washington state has one of the strongest open government laws in the country.
The state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA) says:
“The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”
Despite this strong mandate for government transparency from the people, government employee contracts are usually negotiated in secret, meaning an important and costly taxpayer expense is hidden until the final bill comes due. There have been several efforts in recent years to close this loophole to the people’s right to know, but they have not been successful so far at the state level.
Three local governments in Washington, however, have recently ended secrecy and embraced government employee contract transparency. The first was Lincoln County on September 6, 2016. The Pullman School District adopted contract transparency on January 25, 2017. Then the Tukwila School District adopted a contract transparency resolution on July 11, 2017.
This paper provides a review of these successful Washington state contract transparency efforts. It also includes similar examples of openness from across the country to show that elected officials can provide the public and taxpayers more information on these important spending decisions.
Since government employee contracts account for such a large portion of spending, they should not be negotiated in secret. The public provides the money for these agreements. Taxpayers should be allowed to follow the process and hold government officials accountable for the spending decisions they make on our behalf.