JACKSON, MISS- The House Management Committee recently passed a rule that made terms of contracts, such as the one with the non-profit EdBuild, open for lawmakers eyes only.
Now Attorney General Jim Hood has penned a letter to Lt. Governor Tate Reeves, President Pro Tempore Terry Burton, Speaker of the House Philip Gunn, and Speaker Pro Tempore Greg Snowden that has called for the EdBuild contract to be placed on the state’s transparency website.
Hood said that while the Public Records Act does allow the legislature to keep certain items from the public, the Mississippi Accountability and Transparency Act requires that the contract be put on the website within 14 days of execution.
Translation: The EdBuild contract, according to Hood, should have already been on the website.
Hood cited 27-104-152 which states: “The Legislature finds that the public should be able to easily access the details on how the state is spending tax dollars and other state funds and what performance results are achieved for the expenditures. It is the intent of the Legislatures that the state, acting through the Department of Finance and Administration, create and maintain a searchable website providing accesss, to the extent possible, to where, for what purpose and what results are achieved for all taxpayer investments in state government.”
A Senate meeting is scheduled for Wednesday regarding the handling of contracts–Hood said that the results of that meeting would also be trumped by the regulations in place.
Snowden and Burton released a statement together, in response to the letter from Attorney General Jim Hood:
“When the agreement was approved in October, the terms of the Legislature’s contract with EdBuild to review school funding was shared with the public,” said Speaker Pro Tempore Rep. Greg Snowden and President Pro Tempore Sen. Terry Burton in a joint statement. “Over the last four days as House and Senate leadership continued to study the issue, Legislative legal staff concluded the contract should be posted to the Transparency Mississippi website. The contract has been released to the Department of Finance and Administration to be posted on the Transparency Mississippi website.”
The letter comes after the ruling last week which would allow lawmakers to see such contracts, but would prohibit them from making copies, discussing them, or sharing them with the public.
“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.”
At a public meeting with EdBuild last week, numerous parents, teachers, and advocates were also angered by the ruling of confidentiality, which many claimed was to keep the public in the dark about changes regarding the Mississippi Adequate Education Program formula until after they had happened.
“Secrecy has never been our friend,” said a parent. “So when we get a meeting suddenly announced at a terrible time of the day in the middle of the week… my daughter will be fine. I’m here for the women in the Delta who don’t have a ride.. for the women on the Coast who don’t have the internet. Secrecy is not our friend. We have a long history of making quick decisions.”