While most people interested in politics were watching the polls on Nov. 7, Kittitas County was showing the value of electing courageous leaders.
After several trips to Ellensburg to speak with the county commissioners and other stakeholders about opening collective bargaining negotiations to the public, the day of reckoning finally came.
With a room packed full of union leaders taking turns with their venomous and irrational testimony aimed at the Freedom Foundation, the commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the first-ever ordinance opening contract talks between the county and the unions representing its workers to public observation.
While this is the first ordinance of its kind, three other local governments in Washington – Lincoln County, the Pullman School District and the Tukwila School District – have passed similar resolutions within the past year.
A number of important points were raised during the public comment portion of the hearing, but one of the best quotes came from Commissioner Paul Jewell in response to a union lobbyist’s assertion that deals are cut behind closed doors all the time in the Legislature.
“That’s everything that’s wrong with Olympia,” Jewell said. “We don’t negotiate out budget in private like Olympia does.
We negotiate that in public. The people of this county have the opportunity to hear how every single dollar is spent if they want to take the time to do so. Olympia forces a budget upon us at the last minute, way behind schedule, that was negotiated beyond closed doors and forces a vote in a 24- or 48-hour period before anyone has had the opportunity to read it. That’s wrong, and doesn’t serve the public. We should not look to them as an example. In fact, they should look to us.
And we shall lead the way in that regard, where transparency is considered.”
The Freedom Foundation commends the Kittitas County commissioners for having the courage to move forward with this transparency ordinance. Many elected officials talk about transparency, but that is usually where it ends.
Hopefully, their courage will embolden others local government who have been considering this reform to move forward.
Counties like Franklin, Benton, Spokane, Stevens, Grays Harbor and many others.
Only time will tell which one will be next, but I don’t think we will have to wait long to find out.
Steve Bruchman, the president of Teamsters 760, may have said it best when he described our relentless push for government labor reform. “This is a form of guerilla warfare,” he said. “They go out and the snipe here and there, you never know where they are going to pop up and where they are going to take their shots.”
The Freedom Foundation is committed to working with local governments to bring about transparency with union contract negotiations, as well as other labor reforms.
If you want help urging your local elected officials, county, city or other elected officials to be more transparent with opening union contract negotiations to the public, please contact me to learn more.
Matthew Hayward, Washington Outreach Coordinator