Make Way for the 'Officers'
By Vin Suprynowicz
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Only a few weeks ago, the interim State Records Committee of the out-of-session Nevada state Legislature, drafting for 1997 submission new language for the Silver State's Open Records Law, had before it the draft of a good bill.
The preamble of the new, updated legislation stated that citizens "are entitled to know and be informed fully about the conduct and activities of their government."
Maybe they should now take out the word "fully."
The information originally to be available to the public was to include not only the salaries paid public servants, but also their performance evaluations, and information on their accumulated annual leave and sick leave.
But the public employees' unions objected to the annual performance evaluations of its members being made available to those who pay their salaries - even though the original bill draft called for an unnecessary delay of three years before such documents were to become public.
So, on Aug. 21, the committee obligingly removed those stipulations.
At this point, as open government advocate and former director of the Nevada Press Association Ande Engleman notes, "This closes down more than is presently available."
While it may indeed sound a bit intrusive for members of the public to be sifting out of idle curiosity through the records of some poor courthouse janitor to see how many times he's been out sick, it's vital to see this battle in the context of how our government bureaucrats today use the loophole of "confidential personnel matters."
Recently, a guard at the Clark County jail in Las Vegas was dismissed after an incident in which he beat up an inmate who was trying to warn workers that she had a blood sugar problem and was about to have a seizure.
This was not a matter of an overly energetic nudge. The inmate, already ill, had her face repeatedly pounded into a concrete floor, and patches of her hair torn out ... in front of witnesses, including other jail employees.
Long after the incident, jailhouse authorities contended the name of the guard, and any details of the incident, were none of the public's business. Why? It was "a personnel matter," of course.
Perhaps we were all wrong at Nuremberg. Should we have let the German civil service deal with Goering, Bormann, Hess and the rest, do you think? Their episodes of unfortunate overzealousness were, after all, just "internal German personnel matters," weren't they?
Nevada's Chief Deputy Secretary of State Dale Erquiaga, who sits on the Records Committee and who voted against the new restrictions, says: "Public employees work for the taxpayers. The people who pay our salaries have a right to see how we perform." Mr. Erquiaga says his office may propose further amendments to the Legislature.
I hope so. In the most revealing admission of the Aug. 21 debate, Bob Gagnier, executive director of the State of Nevada Employees Association (the union), said his members now object to being called "public servants." He convinced the committee to instead refer to them as "officers and employees."
"Public servants" is "an older term," Mr. Gagnier simpered. "It is not used much any more except by people when they are running for office."
So now it's "officer." As in: "Yes, officer, with my hands on the roof of the car and my feet spread like this?" Or: "Yes officer, here are my guns and my children, do you need my bank book, too?"
Apparently, a tiny minority of our imperial rulers are still forced to go through the demeaning ritual of pretending to be our "servants" for a few months every other fall. But the vast majority, who aspire to control every detail of our waking lives without having to subject themselves to any such indignity, now want their immunity from such dated rituals to be formalized, even in the wording of our laws.
Can Mr. Gagnier say "overreaching"?
If they don't want to be "public servants," serving the masters who pay their salaries, bending to our will, subject to our oversight and scrutiny, these swarms of tax-bloated functionaries should go seek other work.
Or, perhaps, they'd prefer to go and become "officers" under some other system of government, where they can wear crisper uniforms, with big hats and shiny boots, and where the cowering mob will doff their cheap cloth hats and show proper deference as their masters walk by with their billy clubs, their leashed dogs, and their machine pistols.
Make way for the "officer"!
Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.
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