Closing Open Government (And Public Schools) in DC

For a city filled with people who profess progressive outlooks, it’s amazing how hard our city leaders work ensuring the public is blindfolded and unable to see what the public servants it pays for actually do.

Today, for instance, the city council is voting on the FY 19 budget, which contains within it legislation to take away the independence of the Office of Open Government (OOG). The proposed amendment would put OOG under the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA).

This may seem like so much administrative trivia that has nothing to do with our public schools–but by taking away the independence of OOG, the council could effectively limit the public’s knowledge about what occurs in our public schools.

(For a general primer, see this excellent blog post by Sandra Moscoso.)

Recall that BEGA recently refused to renew the contract of the OOG director, Traci Hughes.

Some years ago, Hughes overruled mayoral appointee and former deputy mayor for education Jennifer Niles and said that meetings of the cross sector collaboration task force must be open to the public.

More recently, Hughes ruled that the DC charter board violated the open meetings act by approving a charter school expansion without public notice.

Consider, for a moment, that BEGA members are appointed by the mayor and that agency hires the OOG director. With OOG fully under BEGA, all information control for the public about the government it funds will be under one person: the mayor.

What could possibly go wrong when all information about, and all control of, our public schools resides with one person?

Consider that our DC charter schools–unlike others–are not subject to requests made via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Consider, also, that the charter board recently voted to have DC charter schools report only contracts that are greater than $100,000, citing the “burden” to schools to do otherwise.

Consider also that when I filed a complaint with BEGA about the actions of the charter board in regard to the oversight and closure of WMST, I was told that charter board staff are not considered public employees and thus are not subject to BEGA’s oversight.

Today, YOU can protect YOUR access to public information about our schools by contacting our elected council members and asking that they protect the independence of OOG and vote against putting OOG completely under control of BEGA:

Phil Mendelson: pmendelson@dccouncil.us, council chair
Anita Bonds: abonds@dccouncil.us, At Large
David Grosso: dgrosso@dccouncil.us, At Large
Elissa Silverman: esilverman@dccouncil.us, At Large
Robert White: rwhite@dccouncil.us, At Large
Brianne Nadeau: bnadeau@dccouncil.us, Ward 1
Jack Evans: jevans@dccouncil.us, Ward 2
Mary Cheh: mcheh@dccouncil.us, Ward 3
Brandon Todd: btodd@dccouncil.us, Ward 4
Kenyan McDuffie: kmcduffie@dccouncil.us, Ward 5
Charles Allen: callen@dccouncil.us, Ward 6
Vincent Gray: vgray@dccouncil.us, Ward 7
Trayon White: twhite@dccouncil.us, Ward 8

Be sure to remind them that in a democracy, there are always alternatives to limiting public participation in government. In this case, the council can hold a hearing on this amendment before voting and/or consider another solution, such as the Strengthening Government Transparency Act of 2017.

You know, the whole democracy thing.

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