A government that keeps secrets inevitably tramples the rights of its people. Transparency, on the other hand, helps preserve precious freedoms. These absolute truths unite the interests of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada and the Nevada Policy Research Institute in litigating a critical public records case.
NPRI sued the Clark County School District after the system refused to release the email addresses of its 18,000 teachers. Although the school district publishes email addresses on individual school websites, the system declared the addresses confidential because officials didn’t like NPRI’s reason for wanting the information: The fiscally conservative think tank alerts educators every summer to their brief opportunity to withdraw from their union.
Incredibly, the school district prevailed in District Court because Judge Doug Smith completely misread state law. In denigrating the “presumption of openness” of government records, he gave confidentiality to government-issued email accounts, funded by the public, when such protections exist only for private addresses provided to governments by the public. The ruling gives government entities across the state new grounds to keep secret communications records that previously had been public information.
Last week, the ACLU filed a brief in support of NPRI’s appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court, reminding justices that the addresses are “created, received or kept in the performance of a duty and paid for with public money.”
Government business is the public’s business. There are only two reasons to hide records: to cover someone’s behind and to prevent public outrage. Carson City District Judge James Wilson saw through the cynicism Thursday when he ordered the Nevada Division of Insurance to release to the Review-Journal and National Review the criminal history records of the state’s Obamacare navigators. If the division appeals to the Supreme Court, it will lose — as will the school district.
For heaven’s sake, in recent years the high court has declared the content of the governor’s email messages public, and it has opened long-sealed state pension records to public inspection. Secrecy doesn’t sell — it costs too much.
Kudos to the ACLU for joining this important fight.