Editorial: Highlands needs to let the Sunshine Act in
The people have the right to know. The people have the right to care. The people have the right to question.
And in most cases, the government doesn’t have the right to say, no.
Highlands School District does not have the right to shadowy decision-making.
In January, the school board placed an unnamed employee on unpaid leave and approved a statement of charges against that person.
The district declined to release the information. When the Tribune-Review filed a Right to Know request under state law, the district invoked a 30-day extension.
On Monday, secretary Iesha Griffin was fired. On Tuesday, the district’s solicitor confirmed she was the employee in question.
But at Monday’s meeting, in a separate action, the board did it again. Another anonymous employee was placed on leave after a statement of charges was filed. A resident inquired. The board president said no.
Personnel issues are an area where government bodies are allowed a measure of confidentiality, but they can only pull a curtain, not slam a door.
The Pennsylvania Sunshine Act doesn’t allow votes to happen while the people are in the dark.
A contract can be discussed in executive session, but the terms have to be released for a vote. An employee can be disciplined by a supervisor behind closed doors, but once a vote is on the table, there has to be a name.
It all goes back to the public’s right to know what is happening with their money. Tax dollars pay an employee, and that gives the public a right to know who is being paid, or not paid, or who will never be paid again, just the same way there is an absolute right to know what the district’s budget is, or its debt, or its taxation.
So a Tribune-Review reporter attempted to object to the lack of identification Monday. Again, the board said no, denying that action because he was not a Highlands resident.
No, he does not live in the 22 square miles that make up the Allegheny County school district. But in that meeting, at that time, he represented the interests of the 22,000 or so residents and the 2,400-ish students and the give-or-take 300 employees. He was the voice of the people who didn’t know they had a right to ask. He stood up for the people who didn’t know they could demand an answer. And the law was on his side.
We can all ask. We can all hold to account. We all have a right to know.
And Highlands has to let the Sunshine Act in.