Game commissioners open working group meetings to public, news media

Shortly after Game Commissioner Ralph Martone of New Castle took
the gavel at the agency’s winter meeting in Harrisburg — becoming
the board’s new president — he made an historic announcement.

The commissioners’ working group sessions, their committee
meetings, he said, will now be open to the public and the news
media. After a century of hashing out most decisions in private
meetings, commissioners will finally deliberate in public.

It’s a huge step, and Martone deserves a lot of credit for
taking it, as well as Commissioner Jay Delaney, of Wilkes Barre,
and others who may have helped persuade the new board president it
was the right thing to do. It takes courage to deliberate in public
— especially when you are dealing with issues as contentious as
deer management, allowing crossbows in archery season and Sunday
hunting, to name a few.

We at Pennsylvania Outdoor News have been demanding for years
that the Game Commission operate more openly and transparently. We
had concluded of late that only a lawsuit would motivate board
members to stop holding private meetings that we believed violated
both the letter and the spirit of the state’s open meetings
statute, better known as the Sunshine Law.

We recognized that this was a pivotal issue, so much so that the
publisher and managing editor of Outdoor News Publications, at my
recommendation, had decided recently to take whatever legal action
necessary to force commissioners to deliberate in public.

But Martone and the other commissioners did not know that. They
made the decision, I think, for the right reasons, because it is
only fair and right to allow sportsmen to view the decision-making
process of the agency they help fund and care so deeply about.

And I believe Martone and the others realize that allowing the
public to see the board wrestle with tough issues will restore
faith in the agency, whose reputation has become so toxic. And it
may well solve some of the commission’s problems with the state’s
legislators. I am convinced that hunters need to better understand
the complexity of the dilemmas the commissioners regularly
confront.

Ironically, it was a commissioner whose term expired who summed
it all up. Tom Boop of Northumberland County, who was attending his
last meeting as a member of the board Jan. 24, admitted that
commissioners have all felt “a little trepidation” about the idea
of opening the working group meetings.

But he contended that Martone’s decision was the right one.

“I think opening the working group meetings is the way to go,”
he said. “I think this is ultimately going to benefit all of us and
show sportsmen what we do and what we’re about.”

Amen.

 

Categories: Pennsylvania – Jeff Mulhollem

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