Rob Douglas: A not so open discussion

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By conducting a public meeting concerning sage grouse conservation while excluding the press, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and Gov. John Hickenlooper did not “foster an open and frank discussion.” Instead, they’ve raised questions about their commitment to a free and unfettered press as enshrined in the U.S. and Colorado constitutions.

Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

As reported by the Craig Daily Press, Jewell and Hickenlooper, along with other county, state and federal officials, toured Bord Gulch Ranch in Moffat County on Tuesday. The tour, which included reporters, was in response to requests made by residents of Northwest Colorado at a meeting with Hickenlooper last November that he personally invite Jewell to Colorado to witness first-hand how ranchers and farmers are protecting sage grouse habitat.

Hickenlooper’s fulfillment of that request is commendable. Seemingly, his two trips to Moffat County in less than 60 days have been well-received by local residents who’ve joined statewide concerns that Hickenlooper has been ignoring issues of import to rural Coloradans. As a relevant aside, those concerns have led to the formation of a bipartisan rural caucus in the state Legislature.

However, after the tour, Jewell and Hickenlooper acted in a manner contrary to the inclusive image they were trying to project by barring reporters from what, under any fair assessment, was an open public meeting at American Legion Post 62 in Craig.

In addition to Jewell and Hickenlooper, participants at the meeting included all three Moffat County commissioners, the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the head of the Bureau of Land Management, plus other representatives from the state, Craig City Council, Routt, Garfield and Rio Blanco counties, and community members. In total, there were more than 40 people at the meeting.

However, when reporters from the Craig Daily Press and KRAI Radio attempted to enter the meeting, they were told the meeting was closed to the press.

According to the Craig Daily Press, government reporter Erin Fenner “said she was ‘under the impression’ the meeting was open to the public and was therefore open to the press. A man present whom Fenner believed to be representing Secretary Jewell told Fenner the meeting was closed by a request from Jewell.”

In an interview with this column, Mike Fuller, a reporter for radio station KRAI in Craig, said that when he attempted to enter the meeting along with members of the public, he was blocked by an unidentified official who recognized Fuller as a reporter and stated, “I’m not allowed to let you in.”

Given that all three Moffat County commissioners were in the meeting, Fenner and Fuller — along with Craig Daily Press Managing Editor Noelle Leavitt Riley, who came to the meeting site after Fenner had been turned away a second time — repeatedly cited Colorado’s Open Meetings law to officials, including Jewell, as the reason the press should have been allowed to attend the meeting.

Their pleas fell on deaf ears, and no member of the press was in attendance at the meeting.

In an initial email responding to questions from the Craig Daily Press about why Fenner had been barred from the meeting, Eric Brown, Hickenlooper’s director of communications, stated that Jewell asked that the meeting be closed to the press to “help foster an open and frank discussion.” On Thursday, responding to follow-up questions from the Craig Daily Press, Brown wrote, “The governor went into the meeting with every expectation that it was open to reporters. He didn’t know your reporter was asked to leave until I told him the day after.”

While those two statements are difficult to reconcile, from a First Amendment perspective, it may not matter. The constitutional question is whether, in fact, the meeting was open or closed to the public.

Arguably, based on the observations of reporters from the Craig Daily Press and KRAI, the meeting was open to the public. And if the meeting was open to the public, the press cannot legally be excluded.

In addition to the legal issues raised, this was an unforced political blunder on the part of Jewell and Hickenlooper. Hopefully they both will acknowledge that excluding the press from Tuesday’s meeting was wrong and take steps to make certain that it never happens again.

To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Neil O'Keeffe 11 months ago

"Attorney Steve Zansberg said government officials at the federal level are not subject to state laws about open meetings. Additionally, the governor, as a single government official, is not considered a public body and therefore not subject to the Sunshine Law." Much to do about nothing as usual!

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mark hartless 11 months ago

Not only do the mushrooms accept being kept in the dark and fed BS, they actually DEFEND those who keep them there. Hillarious!

NY Times (not exactly a bastion of far right propaganda) Editor Jill Abramson had this to say today: "...Obama White House is the most secretive I've ever dealt with..." And she goes back to Reagan. And the secrecy trickles right on down from Mordor on the Potomac all the way to Craig, CO.

Making excuses for YOUR pet alligator, because it is carrying YOUR pollitical water, in the hopes it will eat YOU last, is a fools game.

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mark hartless 11 months ago

"For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved." -John 3:20

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john bailey 11 months ago

so it takes 2 gubbmint idiots to be a body ? what bullxit.....hey , how bout us mushrooms ? just don't eat us....

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Fred Duckels 11 months ago

If this was truly a meeting concerning the welfare of grouse I see no reason to exclude anyone. This all goes back to global warming and elimination of fossil fuels but it makes little sense to split hairs here when China puts a new coal fired power plant on line every week. If we lived within our means we would have clout on the world scene but it seems that currying votes with bags of goodies seems to be more important.

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Scott Wedel 11 months ago

I see this as being similar to the Republican or Democratic Parties holding strategy meetings. They are allowed to exclude the press.

But certain elected official such as the Moffat County Commissioners have been told upon taking office that they cannot be at private meetings that discuss public policy. And yet they willingly violated their oaths of office in order to attend a meeting with the Sec Interior and the Gov.

And somehow the local press has focused on those that organized the meeting that legally had the right to organize it as they wished. And somehow the local press has yet to ask those legally prevented from attending a closed meeting as to why they attended and felt no obligation to follow the law and leave when they learned it was a closed meeting.

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jerry carlton 11 months ago

No level of government cares anything about the public. They care about maintaining control and what they can take from the publics pocket and put in their own .

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Brandon Miller 11 months ago

This article does nothing but take away from what could otherwise be a positive and constructive conversation about land health, the economy and ways to make it a win-win for both. Instead it echos that of the passive aggressive nature of 24 hour news channels that do nothing but divide us. Govn't this and govn't that... Nothing but complaints. Get off your band wagon, stop feeding your monkeys, and use the power of the pen for something constructive to benefit your community and future genertions as a whole, not just the parts that fill your pockets. We are squandering our abiltiy accomplish things at a local level with this sort of rhetoric. A lot more happened the day of the Governor and Secretary's visit, none of which made it to print.

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Neil O'Keeffe 11 months ago

Well said Brandon, but the monkeys need to be fed. Don't expect any reasonable/rational minded comments from this crowd. All very predictable IMHO.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 11 months ago

"the monkeys need to be fed." Is that one of your "reasonable/rational minded comments" Neil. Or is that you just lashing out at any who apparently don't agree with your way of thinking. Me thinks you doth protest too much. John, couldn't have said it better. Hulas to you. although maybe Brandon was referring to Neil. wink

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jerry carlton 11 months ago

Must be nice to be part of the liberal elite intelligentisa. [spelling? can not find my dictionary]

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mark hartless 11 months ago

Call us monkeys you're "sophisticated". Call Mr Obama one and you're a racist.

Ask Chris Christie for his e-mails and you're a "concerned citizen". Ask to have the press at a Sage Grouse meeting and you're a monkey.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 11 months ago

Neil, Neil. Are you out there? Are all that disagree with you really monkeys. Sounds insulting to me. Are all that don't agree with you below your level of intelligence. Just single cell organisms not worthy. Crickets are all I hear.

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Neil O'Keeffe 11 months ago

Wow, the term "monkeys" was taken from Brandon's post so don't flatter yourselves, monkey's have much thicker skin then any of you.

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mark hartless 11 months ago

I think it's "than" you, not "then" you. However, as a monkey I'm certainly not an authority...

I don't think it's a case of these folks having thin skin, rather they are amazed and perplexed by their fellow Americans apparent desire to excuse tyranical behavior today when they professed to being appalled by similar behavior a mere 6 years ago.

But, then again, a lot of smoke has passed through the bong in the interim...

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Dan Kuechenmeister 11 months ago

Nice Neil. Blame Brandon. I guess you are so much more reasonable and rational then those that you consider to be monkeys. Not that you care. Looks to me that you are the one with the thin skin. Still nothing but crickets.

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