opinion by Maylon Rice
Editor’s note: Maylon Rice is a former newspaper reporter, columnist and editor at several newspapers over the past 40 years. He ran, unsuccessfully for the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2012. A native of Warren, Rice lives in Fayetteville.
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
The high and mighty Arkansas Game & Fish Commission announced so very routinely at a commission meeting last week that public information and input meetings are a thing of the past.
The commission announced, not voted, not studied, not recommended, but announced there will be no public input meetings this year to discuss proposed hunting regulations for the 2014-215 seasons. No longer across the Natural State will there be public meetings for rabid G&FC followers such as Henrietta Habitat, Joe Crossbow, Steven Rifle and his life-long pal, Bubba Shotgun to attend.
No longer will citizens get to hear, in a public meeting setting, and get to comment on important “changes” from the commission’s own scientists, zoologists, and management and enforcement folks. No longer will the public gather on a weeknight in such G&FC meeting spots as utility community/meeting rooms, college campus classrooms and civic auditoriums.
No longer will such public input sessions be gathering on cold or rainy or comfortable, Tuesday-Thursday nights at 7 p.m. No longer will regular Arkansans, causal hunters, wildlife enthusiasts and others who want to be heard on the commission’s proposals, be able to hear “the reasoning” behind the commission’s recommendations for hunting seasons, bag limits, and tag restrictions.
No longer will Arkansans be able to meet and cast their eyes on these high faulting commissioners and G&F staffers in person. No longer will citizens feel their voices are been heard. No longer will hunters and fishermen get to listen to one and another in a public setting. No longer will we get to see who is mad, upset or even supportive of these proposed changes and hunting season dates.
No longer will you get to meet state wildlife experts, zoologists, game management folks and yes, even the local, area enforcement people. There will be no more public input meetings.
These public meetings were, according to Brad Carner, chief of the G&F’s wildlife management division, a victim of the budget. The commission does not, you see, make any money disseminating public information to Joe Public. Holding public input sessions is a budget buster.
Listening to the public is indeed a real money loser. The commission allocates plenty of time, budget and manpower on their website, news releases and other slick cover magazines, newsletters. Why waste more money on face-to-face sessions listening to the public?
And if you pay close attention to what they are saying, especially the parroting of this new policy about these pesky public meetings, you will find out Joe Q. Public, that your opinion is really not needed. Remember, all you print and electronic media types, this commission recently DID want to re-write the state’s Freedom Of Information laws to suit their own convoluted perception of what is “public” and what is not.
These input sessions are a part of the “public process,” guaranteed by transparency and fairness of all arms of our state government. Trashing of these public input sessions is step No. 1 to being less transparent.
The commission spokesman noted it will “take public comments electronically through social media and by mail.” You see, Bubba Shotgun, Joe Crossbow, Henrietta Habitat and Steven Rifle, appearing and talking, have been replaced by the clicking of a keyboard. And rather snidely, the commission said, yes, they would also accept that second most ancient form of communication – the letter.
The Game & Fish Commission, an independent and autonomous group of millionaires (Ron Duncan, a veteran Springdale School teacher and a couple of others on the commission will dispute this millionaire status) has forgotten the common man, the fee/license paying public.
Duncan, a former middle school civics teacher who one of the first appointees by the Gov. Mike Beebe, has made most, if not all of the Northwest Arkansas Public Input sessions held since being appointed in 2008. Duncan chimed in on the issue saying he has “attended public meetings in Fayetteville at which only Game & Fish Commission employees were present.
My reply to that is: Did the AG&FC do a good job in getting the word out about the public input session? Or was so little information sent out about the public input sessions that no one attended? And did Commissioner Duncan do enough to support the sessions?
I will also challenge Commissioner Duncan to remember those sessions where the public did attend and vibrant discussions were held. I’ll wager there were more of those meetings than not during his seven years on the commission. If not, I’ll further challenge him as to why he, personally, didn’t do something to change the public input format before tossing in the towel on Joe Citizen?
Public meetings are not sexy. Often there is little or no media coverage. They are often ill-attended due to subject matter, the weather, location and of course, if the public already has the preconceived perception that the regulating body doesn’t really care what the public thinks.
Do you think the G&FC cares about the public and face-to-face input sessions? Do you think we will hear about the emails, both the individual concerns or the mass-emails the commission will receive? The public has been told a “variety of media” will be used to provide ample venues for the public to comment. Does this mean the use of “pay sites” to be heard?
The public lost big with this decision.
Please reinstate the public input sessions, Game & Fish Commissioners and management. Not to do so really makes your “public perception” look so bad.