A year ago today, we posted Bee merry on Christmas & these happy holidays, sharing some charming folklore from the British Isles and Ireland in which bees hum the doxology at midnight as Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day.
This year, we have a different pollinator-related matter that we hope will generate some buzz.
On Thursday, the first meeting of the Governor’s Committee on Pollinator Protection took place. Here's the agenda for the meeting, sent by a staff member after we requested it, a report discussed at the meeting and any audio/video recording of the meeting:
Unfortunately, we were told that the Pollinator Report was still in draft and that no recording was made, but we would be sent minutes of the meeting when they were available.
While Minnesota's open meeting law does not require meetings (other than official "legislative body" committee meetings) to be recorded and made available to the media and the public, Bluestem would think that the Governor's Office, the agencies, and the Environmental Quality Board would tape the meetings in the future.
There's precedent for going beyond what the law requires for meetings. Witness Senator Ron Latz having all the meetings of the 2015-2016 Prison Population Task Force video taped (and streamed for the wider public). An informal task force needn't record its meetings (witness the Senate Rural Task Force meetings beginning in November 2014) but transparency is considered sweet honey these days.
Why tape the meetings of this executive committee? When the governor issued Executive Order 16-07, requiring the state to take specific actions to reverse the decline of bees and other pollinator populations back in late August, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth on the part of Republicans, a few Democrats willing to front for the ag chemical industry like so-to-be-former state senator Vicki Jensen, DFL- Owatonna, some farm groups and the ag chemical industry.
The complaint? That they had not been consulted and that the process wasn't transparent. We posted in September about a special House hearing about the matter here--and included the list of those who attended the pollinator summit held last winter. A wide range of stakeholders were invited, including state legislators, farm groups and lobbyists. We sat at a table in conversation with a Monsanto guy, for instance, and recognized a number of other ag lobbyists at the summit from our years of watching Minnesota House ag and environmental hearings.
As far as we could discern, farm groups and pro-pollinator group were kept on a even footing throughout the process that led up to the executive order (and we're puzzled by those who don't think beekeepers aren't part of agriculture).
The governor's office announced the roster of those on the new committee on December 2. Members include beekeepers, farm group representatives like MN Farm Bureau president Kevin Papp, folks from pesticide skeptic and pro-pollinator organizations, bee scientists and other informed people. Taping their future meetings would not only make the process more transparent, but would also lessen the ability of any faction from playing the butt-hurt game.
The latter communication strategy could possibly emerge should the committee decide to follow a "consensus" model, rather that actually making decisions by voting on actions put before the committee. Under Minnesota's open meeting law, such votes must be recorded in minutes for nearly every meeting of an executive-level or agency committee:
Subd. 4.Votes to be kept in journal.
(a) The votes of the members of the state agency, board, commission, or department; or of the governing body, committee, subcommittee, board, department, or commission on an action taken in a meeting required by this section to be open to the public must be recorded in a journal kept for that purpose.
(b) The vote of each member must be recorded on each appropriation of money, except for payments of judgments, claims, and amounts fixed by statute.
Subd. 5.Public access to journal.
The journal must be open to the public during all normal business hours where records of the public body are kept.
A consensus model paired with no audio or video taped meetings is a recipe for mischief.
Let's nip the possibility of this nonsense at the bud. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the EQB should tape the meetings (audio is fine).
Looking over the statute also generated a question about the report that was under discussion at the first meeting. Were committee members provided with a copy of the draft? If so, the state open meeting law is suggestive about those documents being open to the public during a meeting:
Subd. 6.Public copy of members' materials.
(a) In any meeting which under subdivisions 1, 2, 4, and 5, and section 13D.02 must be open to the public, at least one copy of any printed materials relating to the agenda items of the meeting prepared or distributed by or at the direction of the governing body or its employees and:
(1) distributed at the meeting to all members of the governing body;
(2) distributed before the meeting to all members; or
(3) available in the meeting room to all members;
shall be available in the meeting room for inspection by the public while the governing body considers their subject matter.
Would such a document be available for review by an individual covering the issue (but who couldn't travel from greater Minnesota to attend the meeting)? Or do documents available to the public at a meeting magically become off limits for data practice requests following the meeting? It's not our area of expertise.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all our readers.
Clip art: What conversations will go on behind the curtain if meetings aren't taped?
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