The public good is served when Wyoming lawmakers are willing to revisit bad bills for the better.
Leading the charge to find middle ground on the college and university search process bill -- and there is middle ground -- is Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper.
The Star-Tribune's role in the fighting for the public against the University of Wyoming's process for selecting a new president is well known. A brief summary:
- The UW board of trustees selected a behind-closed-doors confidential hiring process.
- The Star-Tribune, along with other media organizations, filed a successful lawsuit to release the finalists' names.
- The Legislature, in turn, fast-tracked a bill that required closed searches for UW and community college presidents. The bill went into law without Gov. Matt Mead's signature.
- Despite the quick work in Cheyenne, the trustees in Laramie decided there wasn't enough time -- or will -- to fight the media groups in court.
- Four finalists, who agreed to have their names released, were named days later, followed quickly by the selection of Robert Sternberg as president.
The lesson learned by Landen is that even by releasing the names of the finalists, the state's public university attracted high-caliber finalists and hired a promising incoming president.
A review of House Bill 223 is warranted and necessary.
“Even though the university ultimately sort of went the right way, we’re stuck with bad law,” said Jim Angell, executive director of the Wyoming Press Association. “That’s an unfortunate legacy of this entire situation.”
Mead, in not signing the bill, hinted at the problems: “By not affixing my signature to this bill, I wanted to express my concern about creating another exemption from disclosure under the Public Records Act. ...We should avoid further expansion of this law.”
It should be noted that Landen is a vice president at Casper College. Community college officials from around the state, one after another, have said they didn't ask to and never wanted to be a part of the bill. They like, respect and understand the importance of the public being part of that process.
The exclusion of the state's community colleges would be a start.
“It appears the bill primarily was drafted for the University of Wyoming, and community colleges were included as a secondary matter,” said Matt Petry, deputy director of the Wyoming Community College Commission.
Lawmakers have shown they can be thoughtful and deliberative. They need to do so again.
"I think we owe it to ourselves to do that," Landen recently told The Associated Press.
That was a change from his vote days earlier that keeps the public out of the search process.
Today, he's willing to improve that bill. More legislators need to join him. Instead of writing laws to shut the public out, how about rewriting one to make sure it always stays open?