By now, we all know that canceling health insurance subsidies to MU graduate student employees in August was a mistake of momentous proportions.
As Julia Roberts said in “Pretty Woman:”
“Big mistake. Big.
Today, graduate students and the administration are tangling over the students’ right to form a union. It’s hard to predict whether we’d be at this point anyway. Announcing that you’re canceling someone’s insurance the day before you actually do it sure didn’t help.
It’s not as traumatic as the landlord knocking on your door with the sheriff’s deputy behind him. But it’s bad.
So how could so many really smart people wind up making such a poor choice?
As reporter Austin Huguelet showed recently, there were actually a series of oopsy daisies and no-not-me’s leading up to the massive What the F…amily Newspaper.
Huguelet studied more than 2,000 pages of emails to untangle exactly who said what and when. The snarls were frequent, even though several people begged for the decision makers to, well, make a decision.
“Emails obtained through an open records request,” Huguelet wrote, “shed some light on the days leading up to (associate vice chancellor for graduate studies Leona) Rubin's Aug. 14 announcement that the health insurance subsidies would end.”
Huguelet’s reporting shows a complicated, sometimes confusing chain of events. You might come away blaming everyone involved. Or no one. But you, and I hope the people running Columbia’s biggest factory, gained some valuable insights.
Huguelet didn’t finish with emails. He reached out to several people involved in the blunder, reviewed public statements made at the time, and more. He worked through several drafts of the article.
But it began with open records that allowed we, the people, to see what public officials were thinking and doing.
That wouldn’t have happened with your elected officials down at Jeff City. As the Kansas City Star’s Jason Hancock reports, “Missouri lawmakers continue to argue they aren’t subject to the state’s open records laws.” So sayeth the House’s attorney about requests from the Star for emails and by The Associated Press for documents.
Hancock detailed other Sunshine Law drubbings in his column on winners and losers from the 2016 legislative session. The Senate still refuses to allow video recordings of public hearings. Bills have been sent to the governor that would limit access to police videos and agricultural data and crime scene photographs.
An update from the Missouri Press Association noted that there were a few Sunshine victories — if you count simply keeping what we have on the books as a victory. Police still can’t close records about attempted suicides, and the names of lottery winners are still public.
Why should you care? Because it’s the public business.
The lottery example reminds me of a story my former newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, pursued about an Australian syndicate that managed to legally rig a lottery back when state sponsored gambling of this type was new. (I couldn’t find the Pilot stories, but here’s a New York Times piece on it.)
The point is, you never know when public information becomes critical to the people’s business.
So while your state legislators continue to put out the lights in our Sunshine Law, remember:
Good deeds are rarely done in the dark.