After state attorney general's ruling, University of Nebraska releases records to student newspaper

NEBRASKA — Officials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have released records related to its plan to privatize the university’s health services following a letter from the state attorney general’s office that said the records were public.

The release of the bid last week from the company seeking to run the university’s health center on ends a month-long effort from staff at The Daily Nebraskan to obtain the records. The university originally said the bid was private by the state’s public records law.

The Daily Nebraskan asked for the records in October after only one company applied to take over construction and management of the university’s health center. The paper was told the university would only provide the name of the bidder, local hospital system Bryan Health, because it was a private document.

“It’s been part of our policy ever since we developed our bidding procedures to not release the actual bids themselves until the contract is rewarded,” said Kelly Bartling, news director for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “In all our published materials, we included the language that the bid would not be made public.”

The university responded on Oct. 11, saying that the bid would not be subject to Nebraska’s public records law until it became a contract. They didn’t cite a law or statute that exempted them from providing the records, said Nebraskan Managing Editor Riley Johnson.

“I sent an e-mail to the guy who returned my request, and I asked, “You’re not being specific here, could you name the part of the law where it exempts this?’” Johnson said. “He didn’t.”

Johnson then wrote a letter to the attorney general’s office seeking an opinion on the issue. Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning responded to the request Oct. 30, concluding the bid was subject to the open records law and that the university should release the document.

The university provided the Nebraskan with the bid on last Friday, and Johnson wrote a story on the proposal Tuesday, detailing what Bryan Health planned for the university’s health care center.

Bartling said now that the issue has been raised, the university is reviewing its policy on releasing bid information to clear up the language on when and how a bid will be released and what information will be included to the public.

By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.