Time for PGC to do all business in public

I want to say upfront that I admire the folks who have served
and are serving as Pennsylvania game commissioners.

Being a board member of the agency is mostly a thankless job,
and the abuse they absorb from hunters furious over the state’s
bitter deer debate is overwhelming.

I wouldn’t do it, nor would most of you – they don’t get paid
and they volunteer untold hours. Their hearts are mostly in the
right place – they care deeply about the state’s natural resources,
its hunting and trapping traditions, and the sportsmen they
represent.

But having said all that, I have a major bone to pick with them,
and it’s no secret. I have said this to most of them in private
conversations, at press conferences and even at a public meeting or
two over the years:

The agency must stop ignoring the state’s open-meetings law and
do all of its business in public. Commissioners have to allow the
public and news reporters to attend sessions, such as the wildlife
committee meetings. That’s where all of the decisions, like
determining antlerless deer license allocations – that really
matter to sportsmen – are discussed and made.

It is way past time that the Game Commission comply with the
letter and the spirit of Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law!

I have rarely written about my frustration with commissioners
shielding all but the most mundane of their deliberations in
private – and in my opinion, illegal – meetings because I haven’t
wanted to aggravate them and make it more difficult for me and
other writers who cover the commission to do our jobs.

But the cat is officially out of the bag now and it is time to
address this issue openly and honestly. It is no longer acceptable
for the commisioners to meet in secret sessions, make decisions
about wildlife management that affect Keystone State sportsmen and
the general public – and then announce them later with little or no
candor or explanation.

It has been going on for years, and it has to stop. It should
not require a legal action filed against the Game Commission by
Outdoor News or a group of newspapers and public-policy advocates
to force the agency to obey the open-meetings law and stop hiding
commissioner deliberations.

There is a precedent for what we are demanding, and it exists
right down Harrisburg’s Elmerton Avenue from the Game Commission’s
headquarters – at the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission.
Board members of that agency, which is very similar to the Game
Commission, deliberate largely in public.

All Fish & Boat Commission committee meetings are open to
the public and news reporters, and there we can see what goes into
making decisions – not like at Game where we see and hear only
rehearsed, sanitized, contrived and orchestrated versions of
decisions. We don’t know who really said what, who was behind
initiatives or blocked them, or what the actual concensus was.

Fish & Boat commissioners do go into executive sessions
(truth be known, too many to suit me). But the law allows them to
discuss things such as personnel decisions, litigation and real
estate transactions behind closed doors. And we realize that issues
are discussed over drinks and dinner – but the Fish & Boat
commissioners seem to abide by the spirit of the law.

Board members of the Fish & Boat Commission appear to
welcome the public knowing what they are saying and thinking – the
same should be going on at the Game Commission. Sportsmen are
paying the bills for both agencies, and they deserve to know how
their business is being handled.

President Game Commissioner Ron Weaner should announce that all
the agency’s committee meetings will now be open to the public –
that would be a great step, and in the long run, it might even
improve the agency’s reputation.

 

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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