University of Wyoming will make presidential finalists public, despite new law

It’s been a bit of a roller-coaster ride in Laramie for open-government advocates.

First, in January a district court judge ruled in favor of media organizations that the names for the finalists for the University of Wyoming’s presidency should be public record. The university was planning a secret selection process, using the shop-worn argument that good candidates wouldn’t bother applying if their current employers knew they were looking for a job.

But the ink on the court ruling was barely dry when Wyoming House Majority Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, introduced legislation that would make the finalists information secret. At a committee hearing, university officials testified that four of the eight semi-finalists for the job withdrew after the court decision. The fact that the bill went through the Minerals Committee instead of either a higher-education or judiciary committee raises questions about intent.

SPJ’s FOI Committee weighed in, with Chairwoman Linda Petersen and National President Sonny Alborado writing a letter urging the bill’s veto.

The bill passed through the legislature quickly, and Gov. Matt Mead allowed the bill to become law without his signature, on Feb. 8 due to the veto-proof majorities in the Legislature that passed the bill. There was a glimmer of hope in Mead’s warning that the Legislature should not further erode the state’s open-records law.

But it looked like the presidential search would be shrouded in secrecy. Then, as the Student Press Law Center reported Feb. 22, the university decided that it would make the finalists public.

But the law is still on the books, which means the Wyoming media may have to fight this battle again. But at least it can rely on this presidential search to show that sunlight did not scare off qualified candidates.

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