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Confidentiality vs. Transparency: State lawmakers divided on the issue

JACKSON, MISS– A denied request for information of a contract with state legislature, coupled with a policy ruling by the state House Management Committee, has lawmakers divided on the issues of transparency, confidentiality and how the two coincide with each other. 

District 12 Representative Jay Hughes of Lafayette County tweeted a picture of a memo from the House Management Committee Tuesday, regarding a policy that had been voted upon their meeting:

 

EdBuild is an organization hired by the state legislature to make recommendations on the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula. Rep. Hughes said the dealings of this contract should be made public.

“It means that transparency is out the window,” said Rep. Hughes. “This is a new rule that says anything they do can be done in secret.. and the contract dealing with the most important thing in this state, being public education, is now going to be shielded from the people.”

Hughes said that ultimately, taxpayers pay for business, and therefore should have access to information.

“The contents of the contract of the people, for the people’s money should be open for the public to review,” said Hughes. “Not just a select few in Jackson.”

Hughes said transparency is further hampered because texts, emails, and schedules are protected from the Freedom of Information Act.

“So now one has a clue,” said Hughes. “How this two year-old company was picked in a two week period, entered into a secret contract unless they tell us, which they now say they won’t.”

Speaker Pro Tem Greg Snowden, however, said this is nothing new, and it is just an amendment to an old policy.

“All this does is give House members access to otherwise confidential information,” said Snowden. “We think our members need access to the contracts and information since we act on their behalf.”

Snowden said that the policy had nothing to do with a recent request from a media outlet for the EdBuild contract that was denied.

“We don’t release these contracts,” said Snowden. “Contract terms are deemed confidential. This wasn’t the first time a request had been denied.”

Snowden said the adoption of the policy does not hamper transparency.

“In the manner of EdBuild, we’ve revealed how much it costs,” said Snowden. “This is very transparent and very consistent with what we’ve done.”

With the addendum to the policy, legislative members can now view contracts, they are just not able to copy them, distribute them, or release confidential information about the agreements, according to Snowden. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, not even the representatives had full access to the contracts.

“Prior to the meeting, I had made verbal requests with Speaker of the House Philip Gunn and Education Chairman John Moore to see the contract (with EdBuild),” said Hughes. “Both of those were denied.”

But immediately following the meeting, Hughes entered a written request with Snowden.

“It is my understanding that I’ll have the contract made available to me,” said Hughes.

EdBuild will hold a public meeting with lawmakers on Thursday at the Capitol at 4pm.

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