Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons this month created a blue ribbon commission to recommend a new education policy, but he allowed it to meet in secret. After the Las Vegas Sun and other publications raised questions about the legality of the closed-door meetings, the panel agreed to meet in public. But it shouldn't have taken media scrutiny to get the commission to meet in the open - it should have done that all along.
Unfortunately, the problem stems from the governor's office. Gibbons and his staff fought for the commission to meet behind closed doors and got an opinion from the state attorney general's office backing it up. A narrow reading of the law might give the commission the right to meet in private, but that would be contrary to the spirit of the state's Open Meeting Law, which calls for transparency in government decision-making.
Even if the commission had legal grounds to meet in private, that wouldn't necessarily make it right. Government should be automatically programmed to do things in public. Despite all of his populist rhetoric, Gibbons seems to have a hard time understanding that. He has consistently pushed to keep the public out of the government's business.
For example, Gibbons likes to claim "executive privilege," as if he was the president, in refusing to release information. He also likes to toss around the fact that the state constitution vests the governor with the "supreme executive power" in government. That shows an arrogance and disrespect of the public. The state doesn't need a "supreme executive power" working in secret - it needs a cooperative effort of leaders and the public, particularly when it comes to education policy.
Nevada's education system has struggled for years. The state's academic achievement numbers are poor and the education budget is among the worst in the nation per capita.
Gibbons' leadership in this area is hardly comforting. He has cut education budgets and has been known to pursue silly policies, such as the Education First initiative, which was nothing more than a vacuous and crass attempt to make himself look good while doing nothing to improve the schools. Even when Gibbons has appeared to look down the right path, he has stumbled. In his first State of the State address, he proposed creating empowerment schools across the state, and the next day he went to a meeting - to learn about what he had proposed.
As we have seen with Gibbons, education policy shouldn't be in the hands of a few, no matter how "supreme" their power. It should be out in the open and the public should be invited, not excluded.