There are about 1.9 million people in the state of Idaho. Only about a handful of those people knew about the University of Idaho’s plans to buy the University of Phoenix when the deal was unveiled in May. This is not how government is supposed to work.
Yet, ironically, Boise attorney Trudy Hanson Fouser, representing the State Board of Education, said that Attorney General Raul Labrador’s efforts to block the transaction citing open meeting violations “needlessly undermine the people’s trust in government.” Interesting if true.
For a point of reference, contrast what’s happening in Idaho with what happened earlier this year in Arkansas. In Idaho, the University of Phoenix deal was announced suddenly and acted on in a hastily called State Board of Education with the board asking just a handful of perfunctory questions about the arrangement. But in Arkansas, education officials rejected the University of Phoenix sale but did so after many months of public discussion and several hours of deliberation in public by the state’s education regulators.
Very few things undermine people’s trust in government than realizing that government officials have been carrying on behind people’s backs for months, quietly plotting an expense of more than half a billion dollars, and worse, that they’re doing so in a way that is an affront to the state constitution, which says the state can’t lend out its credit to other organizations.
Undermine trust in government? Believe me, it’s very much undermined right now, and that’s not Labrador’s doing. That’s the university’s and the state board’s doing. And that lack of faith in Idaho’s government is not helped by the fact that, to a person, the lawmakers who are supposed to have oversight over the University of Idaho — the members of the House and Senate Education committees and the Legislature’s joint House-Senate budget committee — say they too were left in the dark about the proposal. They learned about it roughly the same time the general public did.
It’s almost as if the purpose of the public, the people who, you know, pay the bills around here, is limited to just that. Shut up. Don’t ask questions. Don’t demand answers. Don’t ask your elected representatives and senators to ask questions, either. Our job is to simply trust that the brains behind the University of Idaho have come up with a great idea, and it will all work out just fine in the end. Don’t worry about pesky little things like a state constitution. Don’t worry about the lack of oversight from the Legislature, the people’s representatives. It will all be okay.
For his part, Labrador is doing the right thing in challenging the State Board of Education’s formation of public policy behind closed doors. If the University of Phoenix transaction is allowed to move forward, prepare for much more formulation of public policy behind closed doors in the future. The university will have learned that it is not accountable to anyone for anything. Why shouldn’t other agencies follow suit?
“Needlessly undermine the people’s trust in government”? Labrador is the only state official who is doing anything to try to restore it.
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