Wyoming governor allows bill shielding University of Wyoming presidential candidates to become law without signature

22 02 2013

Unlike their neighbors in Utah, Wyoming residents won’t know if the best man or woman was chosen to head the University of Wyoming.

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead chose to let HB223, which made the names of candidates for college and university presidencies secret under the state’s open-records law, become law without his signature on Feb. 8. Wyoming law requires the governor to act on a bill within three days of receiving it.

“By not affixing my signature to this bill I wanted to express my concern about creating another exemption from disclosure under the Public Records Act,” Mead said in a statement issued by his office. “I did, however, want the search process at the University of Wyoming to play out under the conditions established for the applicants who put their names forward. I do not want to change the process midstream.”

Wyoming news organizations went to court to get access to the list of the finalists for the University of Wyoming presidency. After a court ruled the names and applications were public records, Wyoming House Majority Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, introduced the bill.

The Casper Star-Tribune noted in an editorial that Mead had little choice in letting the bill become law. It had passed with more than enough votes to override a veto, which would have wasted Mead’s political capital.

But the paper said legislators should heed the governor’s warning and not try to expand exemptions to the open-records law.

“Good government doesn’t happen behind closed doors. Anyone who believes otherwise usually gets the luxury of being behind those closed doors when it comes to making a decision,” the paper wrote.

The Society of Professional Journalists also weighed in on the issue, with a letter urging the bill’s veto. In the letter, SPJ National President Sonny Alborado and Linda Petersen, SPJ’s national FOI chairwoman, evidence from around the country suggests that open presidential searches do not scare off quality candidates.

The SPJ leaders noted that Utah, which has made the names public for more than 10 years, has not had problems finding qualified people to preside over the state’s universities and colleges.

“It is hard to evaluate if someone is truly the best if you don’t know who they were being compared against,” Alborado and Petersen wrote in their letter. “Opening the process allows the public to see whether the final selection was made on the individual’s merits or as a political favor.”

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