Shameless & sad

Shameless & sad

Not content with using the basic appeal process in an attempt to further delay the public release of Greater Pittsburgh’s “incentive” bid to secure Amazon’s second headquarters outside of Seattle, the Post-Gazette reports on some squirrelly legal machinations by the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County officials to keep clearly public information hush-hush.

An attorney for WTAE-TV – which previously secured a ruling from the state Office of Open Records that the bid for “HQ2” should be made public – tells the newspaper that city and county officials sent a private letter to the judge considering the appeal seeking certain redactions should he affirm the agency’s ruling.

As WTAE attorney Ravi V. Sitwala tells it, public officials sent the private letter to Judge W. Terrence O’Brien after the deadline had passed for briefs to be filed in the matter – thus, unfairly denying the TV station and others involved in the case the ability to respond.

Sitwala, in a letter of his own to O’Brien complaining of the tactic, reminded that the city and county had “consistently refused to identify particular information in the proposal as subject to redaction.”

“Petitioners should not now be permitted to change their legal position – should the court find, consistent with the evidence, that the proposal is not covered by any of the cited [right-to-know law] exemptions in its entirety, it should order the entire proposal disclosed consistent with the petitioners’ chosen all-or-nothing approach,” the attorney wrote to the judge.

And the public, of course, is paying for all this nonsense.

This by-hook-or-by-crook behavior by public officials is shameless. It more than suggests they believe the odds are that the judge will reject their secrecy and affirm the initial state Office of Open Records ruling.

And their Hail Mary tactic should leave a very bad taste in the mouths of taxpayers into whose pockets these officials always are eager to dive – the very same taxpayers who have the audacity to demand transparency.

An interesting correspondence from reader Karen M. Johnson, a former Pennsylvania educator now living in Nebraska:

“I read your article this morning on school consolidation. Pennsylvania was my home for 30 years and where I was educated in the public schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.

“I am now a retired educator (teacher, counselor, principal, superintendent) and have worked in several states across the country, most recently in Western Nebraska. Having lived through consolidation in Nebraska, my experience and opinion is that most legislative movements toward efficiency, when dealing with such a people-centric business as education, do not work.

“Efficiency as a solution just does not work well with people business. The farther one gets from local control and partnership (the ideal would be individual school building control), the more disengaged one gets and loss of quality usually follows.

“If one thinks of schools as an extension of parenting, does it make sense for the “school parents” to be in a centralized location and distanced from the actual parent and family?

“Children do best when they know and feel that their family and teachers are working closely together to support them. Decisions made in the interest of the child become less possible and certainly more bureaucratically entangled when they are made from a consolidated location and not at the building or district level.

“I would love for the U.S. Department of Education to be dissolved. Things have gone downhill under (its) guidance since the 1970s.”

In a follow-up email, Johnson — who grew up in Malvern, Pa., a village west of Valley Forge (and with family still in Harrisburg) — noted that her teaching “career spanned Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Nebraska in public and private schools.”

“When we were fighting the state of Nebraska against closing the state’s small, country schools (at the time Nebraska had more small, one-to-three-room schoolhouses than any state in the country), I was told by a friend in the Legislature that their interest was in having every school district a certain number of miles from I-80 (highway which runs east-west through Nebraska) for the sake of efficiency.

“Sigh,” Johnson concluded.

But one respectful point of order is required here:

In loco parentis, the long-recognized legal doctrine that educators have, by proxy, certain responsibilities for students in their charge, is one thing.

But what a sad commentary it is that such a proviso rooted in English common law has been so bent, folded, stapled and mutilated that too many believe schools, as a matter of sound public policy, should be an “extension of parenting.”

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (cmcnickle@alleghenyinstitute.org).