on Contracts

In addition to the job I do as an engineer for my company, I am also tasked to evaluate the contracts we make with telecom carriers. Normally contracts are the purview of the lawyers, and ours ensure that the agreements we make with vendors comply with the myriad of rules the government creates to control our lives, protect us from ourselves, and make life generally more aggravating. But I digress. Lawyers fulfill a necessary purpose, in that they ensure that their clients are protected from any potential legal mis-step. However, while they do know the law, they are not telecom engineers, and have absolutely no understanding how some contract language, while legal, could have potential negative effects on both our network or department budgets.

That is where I come in. While the lawyers have the priority of protecting their client, the company itself, I have the priority of protecting my “client”, the company’s telecom department (and by extension, the whole company as well). When I look over contracts, my focus is not necessarily on whether the terms are legal (although I do review them for tariff compliance); it is whether or not the contract terms are beneficial to my client, the telecom department. How will this vendor’s pricing affect our budget? Are the service terms weighed far too favorably towards the vendor? What protections are in place if they fail to provide service, and how will we be made whole? Were the design promises made to our engineers included? And finally, based on past experience and current terms, is this a vendor we want to do, or continue to do, business with? As a company we are not obligated to continue a contract with anyone, and certainly not if it isn’t in our best interest. Just because a contract is legal doesn’t mean that it is right.

Because Iowa is a right to work state, the same freedom applies to ordinary workers here. We are considered “at will employees”, and unless an existing contract with our employer says differently, we can be let go at any time. However, did you know that this is not true for some of those employed by school districts? Iowa Code 279.24 actually provides special exemptions for school administrative staff from the rules that apply to private businesses. Under this statute, before an administrator can be let go, they must be first notified in writing by a certain date of the school board’s decision to not renew their contract, the decision to not renew must be for just cause and fully documented, they must be given a chance to a hearing with the school board, a chance to appeal their decision to an administrative law judge, and then if necessary, appeal to a full court. (School district policy also reflects this)

What bothers me about all this is why do these folks get special treatment under the law? Why don’t they have to live under the same right to work law that the rest of us do with our private employers? Or conversely, why can’t the rest of us have these same protections? Keep in mind that this has nothing to do with union contracts. These are actual legal exemptions given to a small group of people that can be used to override any decision made by our duly elected school board members. So basically those employed by the public, have more rights than do their employers, the actual public. Does that seem fair to you?

Were it not for this special protection, our school district administrator’s contract would not have been renewed. No motion was made for its approval; the only motion that was made was for it was for non-approval. Under normal circumstances, the contract renewal would have failed due to a lack of a motion to approve.  And under the Open Meetings law, if further action was to be taken on it later (as one board member requested a vote), it would require another open meeting to be called. Yet none of that occurred. Does anyone else find it disturbing that our district can be bound to a contract that our school board, our duly elected representatives, never approved?

Our newspaper really did not get it wrong. It reported it correctly. The school board, by taking no action to approve, actually declined to renew the administrator’s contract. It was the Iowa Code that later forced its renewal. So, let’s give credit where credit is due, shall we?

And then perhaps we can start asking our legislators why they are passing laws that allow some of our fellow citizens to live under a different set of rules than the rest of us do.

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