/Legislature All our contracts are secret

Legislature All our contracts are secret

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with information about which House members voted in favor or against keeping legislative contracts confidential. A Mississippi Today public records request for information about the state’s EdBuild contract was made to the House Management Committee Tuesday. The committee adopted a new policy that requires all contracts it approves to be kept confidential. The House Management Committee approves contracts that are entered into by members of the House of Representatives. The policy states, “All contracts entered by the House Management Committee shall remain confidential and shall not being released to any person or entity except as directed by the House Management Committee only whenever the committee considers necessary for execution of the contract.” This decision comes as a small group of state legislators meet to examine spending procedures by state agencies, including contracting. The policy states that any House member can “read and/or examine” a contract but the “contents of the contracts shall remain confidential and no House member shall copy, duplicate, or photograph them in any way.” In October, the state signed a $250,000 contract to EdBuild, a nonprofit based in New Jersey. EdBuild will be reviewing the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and possibly rewriting it. This formula determines how much state money is available to public schools each year. At 4 p.m. on Thursday, the Capitol will offer the public its first opportunity to comment on the funding formula. All comments are limited to three minutes. Mississippi Today filed a request for public records regarding the contract with the House of Representatives in October 12. Andrew Ketchings, House Clerk, told Mississippi Today that the committee would need to decide whether to release the contract during its meeting. The new policy was adopted by the committee at Tuesday’s meeting. The new policy, which was introduced by Greg Snowden (R-Meridian), Speaker Pro Tempore, would improve transparency and allow members of Congress to review contracts. Snowden stated that the Senate had previously believed that members cannot see contracts. He noted that the House’s policy is similar to one in place by Senator Philip Gunn. The Speaker of the House Philip Gunn did not respond to requests for comment. Senator Terry Burton (Republican from Newton) stated that the Rules Committee would vote on the same policy during its meeting on November 23. Burton stated that it is already the policy of the Legislature that travel records be the only public records for the Legislature. Burton stated, “Emails and contracts, texts messages, and all that are related to travel records, these are not public records.” Burton stated that the need to create a new policy was raised because of questions about senators and state representatives’ access to contracts documents. Burton stated that this is the real reason for the policy. He said contracts shouldn’t be floating around everywhere. “If you ever open that gate, it just keeps getting wider and wider.” The Legislature had previously established its rules for which records were public and which weren’t before the policy was adopted. The Mississippi Public Records Law does not say that the law “shall” be read as denying the Legislature the power to set the rules for its proceedings and regulate public access to its records. Rep. John Hines (D-Greenville) questioned why such an unrelated policy was brought up so late. Hines and the other members claimed they were not aware of Mississippi Today’s request for public records. Hines stated, “I think it is unfair, I really do.” Hines, Rep. Willie Perkins D, Greenwood and Rep. Jerry Turner R-Baldwyn voted against this policy. Scott Bounds (R-Philadelphia) was absent from the meeting. Mississippi Today was contacted by Chris Brown, R-Aberdeen to clarify that he voted “nay” on the voice vote at the committee meeting. Turner, who was next to Brown at the meeting, confirmed Brown’s vote. It was a voice vote and no official vote was taken. Snowden, Rep. Angela Cockerham (D-Magnolia), Rep. Richard Bennett (R-Long Beach), Rep. Larry Byrd (R-Petal) and Rep. Ray Rogers (R-Pearl) were also present at the hearing and considered voting for keeping the contracts secret. Layne Bruce, the head of Mississippi Press Association, stated that the adoption of this policy was a “negative precedent”. EdBuild also refused to grant a request for the contract. A representative of the group stated that they were asked to “refer the requests to the appropriate committees.” To support this work, you can make a regular donation today to celebrate our Spring Member Drive. This will allow us to continue important work such as this story. Our reporters give a human face to policy’s impact on everyday Mississippians by listening more closely and understanding their communities. To ensure that our work is aligned with the priorities and needs of Mississippians, we are listening to you. Click the button below to let us know what you think. Republish this Story You can freely republish our articles online or in print under a Creative Commons licence. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Mississippi Today, Kate Royals
November 15, 2016, Kate Royals, a Jackson native, returned to Mississippi Today as lead education reporter after previously serving the same role from 2016-2018. Before that, she was a reporter at the Clarion-Ledger for education and state government. Her investigative reporting, which included stories about the state’s prison system and campaign finance laws, won her awards. After graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications, she was a MassLive news producer in Springfield, Mass. She also holds a master’s in communications. Burton is a bald-faced liar. These people are experts at looking out for their own interests. If the conservatives of this state stop paying attention, we will not last forever.