Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2014

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LOCAL GOVERNMENT:

Gibbons hops on union negotiations transparency bandwagon

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Gov. Jim Gibbons

Steve Sisolak

Steve Sisolak

Sun Coverage

Contract negotiations between Nevada governments and their public employee unions are held in secrecy. Exempt from the open meeting law, the talks are one of the few instances in which taxpayers have no right to see their dollars deliberated over.

For several months, one Clark County commissioner, Steve Sisolak, has called for such negotiations to be opened to the public. Several states conduct them publicly.

Now, Sisolak has an unlikely supporter: Gov. Jim Gibbons.

The governor, who faces an uphill bid for re-election, announced this week a petition drive to place on the ballot an initiative calling for open negotiations between governments and employee unions.

“I guess he likes my idea,” Sisolak, a Democrat, quipped.

Gibbons is a Republican.

Nevada isn’t alone in exempting contract negotiations from open meeting law. The other states that do so are Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Washington and Wisconsin.

Here is how states with a more transparent process handle contract talks with their employee unions:

• Negotiations in Florida, Kansas, Tennessee, Minnesota, Montana and Texas are completely open to the public.

• Oregon holds talks in public unless both sides request that they be closed.

• Iowa holds closed negotiating session, but requires both sides to make public their initial bargaining positions.

• Alaska allows the public to weigh in on school employee contracts before negotiations begin.

Commission Chairman Rory Reid, a Democratic candidate for governor, said the state's new law demanding that elected officials vote on contracts in public is good enough for now, but Gibbons’ trumpeting of the idea is hypocritical.

“For him to say he wants transparency is really a pretty good joke,” Reid said, noting Gibbons’ refusal to release his daily schedule and battle to keep his state e-mails private. “You don’t have to be grandstanding about it a month before the primary.”

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