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Editorial: Personnel and the public

The man who has headed the state legislature’s Research Division since 1992 is no longer in that job. According to the legislature’s human resources office, Walker Reagan’s employment status is “undetermined.”

You’ve probably never heard of Walker Reagan; you may not be familiar with the nonpartisan Research Division. If you pay attention to government at all, though, you’ve heard this line far too often: “I can’t comment on personnel matters.”

That’s the explanation given by Reagan’s boss, Paul Coble. It’s the same explanation given all too often by government officials across the state when they dismiss an employee. Taxpayers fund the salaries of countless government workers, from legislative researchers to public school teachers to prison officers. But state law still cloaks the action in mystery, giving the public scant information with which to process the change.

If someone is dismissed as a result of disciplinary action, state law says this document is public: “a copy of the written notice of the final decision of the authority setting forth the specific acts or omissions that are the basis of the dismissal.” Dismissals that are not disciplinary remain under wraps, however. The public’s right to know about our government runs smack dab into employee privacy protections. And personnel do deserve a level of privacy. But who is protected when the public gets no explanation for what appears to be dismissal at whim — the employee, or the public official who instigated the dismissal?

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