When Interior Secretary Sally Jewell visited Moffat County Tuesday to discuss the future of the greater sage grouse and the possibility of designating it as an endangered species, she held a gathering at a ranch, out in the open with press and all.
Later that day, when joined in Craig at the Legion hall with Gov. Hickenlooper, the Moffat County commissioners, elected officials from neighboring counties and community members, Jewell banned the press. No member of the community was excluded that wanted in, yet Jewell twice barred a Craig Daily Press reporter access to the meeting.
According to a story in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Interior spokesman Blake Androff said the press was turned away in order to "allow for an open and frank discussion."
The reporter, after being thwarted once, called one of the Moffat commissioners in the meeting and was told the meeting was open. Moffat County officials had noticed the open meeting properly according to Colorado Sunshine laws, knowing a quorum would be present.
When the reporter returned to gain entry, she was again denied access by a Jewell staffer.
According to an editorial in the Craig Daily Press, an attorney for the Colorado Press Association told the Press that federal sunshine laws are very weak and that the secretary could close the meeting.
What about Hickenlooper? You'll recall last August he told Time magazine that government transparency got in the way of effective law making. The Denver Post quoted Hickenlooper's statement in Time: "We elect these people to make these difficult decisions, but now they are in the full light of video every time they make a decision," Hickenlooper said. "We elected these people, let them go back into a room like they always did."
While Hickenlooper later backpedalled and said he didn't really mean what he said, it certainly raised ironic parallels to the head of his party, President Obama, and his campaign promises to construct the most transparent administration in history.
On whitehouse.gov, under the heading of "Transparency and Open Government," the president has posted: "My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government."
According to the Daily Sentinel, Hickenlooper did not know that reporters had been banned from the meeting. The statement did not, however, regret the occurrence. Moffat County commissioners did express regret.
As for Secretary Jewell, we completely agree with the Craig Daily Press statement, "We’d like to remind the secretary that members of the press are also members of the public."
The Press went on to say, "If every elected official in America decided to close the press out of meetings to foster frank discussion, well, we would not have a democracy."
Associations are odd bedfellows. Even though Hickenlooper has expressed a desire for smoky backroom deals, Jewell should have taken her cue from her boss, at least in theory, even though that is more of a case of "do as I say, not as I do." Remember the promise to broadcast all healthcare negotiations on C-SPAN? In another example, according to the Poynter Institute, a non-profit organization of journalists, the "Obama administration's Freedom of Information Act record is worse than Bush's." If the administration is looking for improvement, denying a reporter access to a meeting in Craig that one Moffat County commissioner described as "general give-and-take, comments and questions," according to the Press, is no way to turn that record around.
Speaking of barring the press - and the public - the City of Ouray relented from their stance of withholding the public comments that the city council solicited regarding City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli. Last Thursday, Rondinelli handed the Plaindealer all 55 submissions. The Plaindealer, as you recall, made an open records request that was, amazingly, rebuffed by the city attorney. When the Plaindealer elicited assistance from the Colorado Press Association, its attorney convinced the city of what we were certain was the case. The submissions are available to anyone who asks.
But, read at your own risk. While most submissions are squarely in support of Rondinelli, others, not so much. Still others make attacks on unrelated people. None of it can be believed. None of it can be verified. To the ones who wrote glowing, supportive notes, who knows? Maybe Patrick has a big, extended family? To the ones who wrote scathing, vulgar letters, sometimes not even on point, who knows? The terms bitter and disgruntled may apply.
The whole policy was exactly what one would expect when soliciting unsigned, anonymous letters. We look forward to the city returning to the practice of open government.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at 970-325-2838 or