Public will get to know who’s in running for University of Wyoming presidency

23 02 2013

The Student Press Law Center reported Friday that the University of Wyoming will release the names of the candidates for the University of Wyoming Presidency.

Chad Baldwin, the university’s director of institutional communications, said the university was dropping its challenge to a lawsuit filed by Wyoming media to see the names. The university had sought to conduct a secret search for the new president, but a district judge ruled in January that the finalists’ names were a matter of public record.

That ruling inspired a bill to make the searches private. On Feb. 8, the bill became law without Gov. Matt Mead’s signature. Mead did warn the Legislature not to further erode Wyoming’s open-records law.

University officials had argued that the secrecy was needed to get qualified candidates for the job. But the news organizations maintained that a public search would attract high-quality candidates, as well as promote public involvement in the selection process.

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.”

Wyoming lawmakers want to shroud university president selection process in secrecy

1 02 2013

Just in case you were wondering, Utah’s legislators don’t hold a monopoly on attempts to close off public records.

The Student Press Law Center reports that Wyoming lawmakers are trying to nullify a court ruling that declared documents identifying finalists for the University of Wyoming president should be made public.

The Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Casper Star-Tribune and the Associated Press filed suit seeking to get  documents that would reveal who was being seriously considered for the post. A week ago, a state judge ruled that the records were public, and should be released to reporters.

The following day, Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, introduced HB223, which makes information on candidates for university and college presidencies private records. As of Friday, the bill has passed the Wyoming House of Representatives and has advanced to the Senate.

Chad Baldwin, the University of Wyoming’s spokesman, told the Student Press Law Center that releasing the names of finalists may cause some candidates to back out. He claimed that in the wake of the judge’s ruling, four of the eight semifinalists for the post withdrew.

But open-government advocates argue that releasing the names allows the public to comment on the candidates, providing the university’s board of trustees with information that it might not otherwise get.

“The public is really interested in that particular university,” Star-Tribune editor Darrell Ehrlick told the law center. “There are not the divided loyalties that there may be in other states.”

In Utah, the names of finalists for university presidents, as well as school superintendents, city managers and similar positions are released to the public. That practice came in the wake of a 1996 4th District Court ruling that Orem officials could not withhold the names of finalists for the city manager’s post.