In Summits, interests groups and the Governor's residence: when citizens aren't "stakeholders," we just posted about a governing model in which citizens take a back seat to interest groups and "stakeholders when it comes to shaping policy recommendations
It could be worse: ordinary Minnesotans might not even have a seat at a summit at all.
Witness what appears to be the original design for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Environmental Initiative's Pollinators Summit on February 12.
From public to invite-only
The copy on the webpage that was once posted--but not publicized or readily visible on the Environmental Initiative's website--stated that the MN Department of Agriculture Pollinators Summit was free and open to the public on Friday, February 12.
We posted about that and took a screenshot (above). The webcache for the page shows the original copy from January 4, in which the event was listed as free and open, but for which space was limited, is still online (and we have screengrabs of that as well).
A few days later, state legislators received emails from the Minnesota Commissioner asking them to register for the pollinator summit if they were interested--and that the summit itself was to be an invitation-only event. UPDATE: It's not clear whether all state legislators received these invitations. We will be checking on Monday to see [end update]
Legislators from both parties forwarded the email from Minnesota Department of Agriculture Dave Frederickson. Here's the text, which was posted on January 8, four days after the original "free and open to the public" copy had appeared online:
From: "Frederickson, Dave (MDA)" <email@example.com>
Date: January 8, 2016 at 4:47:22 PM CST
Subject: Invitation to Minnesota Department of Agriculture Pollinator Summit
January 8, 2016
Dear Representative [redacted]
I am writing to invite you to participate in the Minnesota Department of Agriculture’s Pollinator Summit, to be held on February 12, 2016 at the Wellstone Center located at 179 Robie Street East, Saint Paul, Minnesota. This summit will convene the full spectrum of Minnesota’s insect pollinator experts and interested stakeholders—from beekeepers to landscapers to farmers—for a day of information-sharing and collaboration on potential solutions that will protect and support Minnesota’s insect pollinators.
Pollinators are an irreplaceable public resource. Insect pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, wasps, flies, and beetles, are critical for the pollination and production of crops and the health of native flora and landscapes. Some are especially valued for their beauty and place in our culture, like the monarch butterfly and the honey bee.
However, Minnesota’s insect pollinator populations, both domesticated and wild, are in decline. This summit will bring the full range of interests who can play a role in protecting Minnesota’s insect pollinators together to identify challenges and propose broadly-supported solutions that will address this decline, particularly those strategies that could be implemented by state agencies in the near term.
I encourage you to join us for a full-day summit on February 12, 2016, where we will tackle these issues collaboratively and ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy the food, landscapes, and other societal benefits that depend on our insect pollinators. You can see the agenda for the day here.
Due to the fact that space is limited, this event is an invitation only event. You can register for the event here.
If you have any questions or concerns about the event, please feel free to contact Greg Bohrer at Environmental Initiative (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Assistant Commissioner Matthew Wohlman at the Department of Agriculture (email@example.com).
David J. Frederickson
Turn and face the changes
That's at odds with the screengrab above. However, the copy on the Environmental Initiative event page has been updated:
Due to limited space, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Environmental Initiative have reserved remaining registrations for invited issue experts that are essential for a productive and informed conversation.
Contact Greg Bohrer at 612-334-3388 ext. 111 with questions or to be added to a waiting list for this event.
This seems rather peculiar, since one would think that the planners would simply have reduced the number of open seats by the number of invited "issue experts." We do not know of any conferences where the experts aren't simply including in the head count for planning.
But those "stakeholders"--landscapers, farmers and other folks that the Department of Agriculture saw fit to invite--got on the guest list.
Not us. Not the young millennials we know who work in sustainable rural and urban ag. Indeed, the only people we know who got invites are some legislators.
Space: The Final Frontier
The links to the agenda and registration on the page are no longer working. (The agenda is embedded in our original post and online here (at least for the moment). For its own part, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has not posted a release about the event on its list of press releases. Nor is there any mention of the event in the media.
We understand that space is at a premium, though the Wellstone Community Center isn't exactly tiny. According to the Event Space page for those wishing to rent the space:
The Wellstone Center is a 93,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility that opened in 2006, offering a wide range of distinctive venues for any size or style of event and features a free parking ramp. We provide a unique setting for intimate groups of ten or twenty, banquet rooms perfect for 75 to 120, performance space seating for 250, or an open gymnasium for up to 800, plus the luxury of using your own caterer.
Couldn't concerned citizens be worked in there somehow? Through the miracle of the Internet, satellite locations might have been set up around the state or remote access (it's being done for stakeholders by the MPCA for the Clean Power Plan).
Will the presentations and sessions be live streamed and videotaped? Minutes kept and distributed? This would seem to qualify as a public meeting--it was advertised as such on the only place it was made public, regardless of how little it was promoted.
We registered at the time we discovered the page and do hope that our standing as a member of the public still qualifies us to be there. We've kept the confirmation of our registration that was sent us.
Perhaps nearly ten years of writing about Greater Minnesota politics--and a column in Hutchinson's paper before that will validation our registration.
Perhaps our education--we were elected into Phi Beta Kappa at Hamline and can understand science and math as well as the literary arts and philosophy--qualifies us.
Perhaps those years spent on the policy committee of the Minnesota Farmers Union, or our many years as an organic farmer's daughter and gardener in our own right is enough for a seat.
Or maybe we just had to know someone.
Screengrab: The original event page on the Environmental Initiative website.
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