Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Robert Turner Responds

On April 26, I wrote to Robert Turner and Cathy Stepp, regarding the RUSD teachers contract. If you want to read my letter to them, scroll down. I have yet to receive a response from Senator Stepp. I did receive a response from Representative Turner. Here is his response, and my comments, which I will put in parenthesis.

Dear Mr. Navratil:
Thank you for your e-mail message expressing your concerns that the Racine Unified teachers' contract was ratified prior to the public having access to the information contained in the contract. ( My concern was that the contract "will be ratified by their union and our elected school board members prior to the public having access to the information. Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been. There is a big difference between secret negotiations between administration and the unions, and votes taken by publicly elected officials without their constituents having access to the information to be voted on. At any rate, the information was released by RUSD prior to the vote.)

In your letter you state that collective bargaining "undermines the democratic process." ( No, I did not. I stated that elected officials voting on important matters that are withheld from their constituents undermines the democratic process. Now, if "collective bargaining" includes the legal right to withhold contract details from the public, after ratification by the teachers and before the vote of elected school board members, then yes, this would most certainly undermine the democratic process. That would be a law in need of change.) However, the collective bargaining laws set forth in the Wisconsin statutes do not prescribe a democratic process, but rather a bargaining process between two parties. ( The bargaining had been concluded by that point, so Robert Turner really did not answer my question.)

Turner went on to state that he was unaware of any formal public records request asking for the contract details. (This is a good point, but with very little time between teacher ratification and school board voting, a records request could allow RUSD to stall the release of the info, effectively allowing them to withhold the information anyway.)

Turner also included a copy of a 1994 opinion written by the -Attorney General Jim Doyle, concerning the question as to whether final ratification of a collective bargaining agreement should have been conducted in an open meeting.

I thank Robert Turner for his response, but I am still left wondering the same question. Is it legal for RUSD to withhold the teacher ratified contract from the public, prior to the vote of the school board? That RUSD released the information suggests one of two things. Withholding the information was illegal, or, withholding the information is legal, but so obviously slimy that the RUSD leaders concluded that withholding the information could jeopardize their more crucial concern, which we all know is passing another referendum.


BBG said...

A ruling from Diamond Jim??? Coming from Turner??? Anyone else see red flags all around???

Denis Navratil said...

For the record, the ruling issued by Jim Doyle indicated that ratification of teachers contracts must be done in open session.

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