Another View: Transparency isn’t just for public employees

There have been a number of efforts in recent years to promote transparency in government. Legitimate efforts should be championed by good government advocates as well as workers everywhere.

In four California jurisdictions, including three in Orange County, elected officials have adopted variations on a program known as Civic Openness in Negotiations. In his column (“Union bills proliferate in Capitol,” July 21), Dan Walters falls into the same trap as officials in those places by failing to question the program’s narrow focus and how that misleads taxpayers.

The program is fixed solely on transparency requirements in negotiating with nurses, police officers, firefighters and other public employees. But transparency should be applied equally to other areas where taxpayer dollars are spent. Singling out public workers is not only discriminatory, but it misses an opportunity to shine a light on areas where real fiscal abuse occurs.

Senate Bill 331 by Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, levels the playing field by requiring the same level of scrutiny on all negotiations for contracts of more than $250,000, adding much needed protection for the public.

There is a clear need for transparency beyond labor talks with public employees. Conflicts of interest, sweetheart deals and other abuses involving public contracts with the private sector are regularly exposed in newspapers. Recent municipal corruption scandals in Bell and the City of Industry had nothing to do with labor negotiations and everything to do with elected officials and administrators feeding at the public trough. The Orange County grand jury recently called out a culture of corruption in county government; several reports have raised questions about money and influence changing hands between lobbyists, campaign contributors and private contractors.

Three Republican legislators who voted for COIN as Orange County supervisors now oppose SB 331 as state senators. What is transparent here is that these politicians are trying to have it both ways – transparency for labor negotiations but secrecy for their friends.

The business interests, campaign contributors and lobbyists that benefit from public contracts have ample influence in the halls of local government and certainly don’t need Walters to carry their water for them.

Jennifer Muir is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.