It’s been a bad run for government, with a sham federal hearing, state lawmakers snubbing the public and a misbehaving, imperious agency head. All this contempt for the public by our officials is making for some strange bedfellows.
In January, when the federal government announced it wanted to open up nearly all the waters off the Washington coast to oil drilling, it also said it would conduct a single hearing in the state to “engage the public” in the decision.
“We will make sure that there are thousands of Washingtonians there to make sure the Trump administration knows this is not where they are coming to look for oil,” one state senator salivated at the idea.
Well that hearing now is set for Monday in Olympia. Only there’s a hitch. It turns out there won’t be any “hearing” because there isn’t going to be much “talking,” at least not of the official testimonial variety.
Oil drilling “hearings”
The federal government’s open house on drilling for oil in coastal waters off Washington is Monday, 3 to 7 p.m., at Hotel RL Olympia by Red Lion, 2300 Evergreen Park Drive S.W. in Olympia.
From 1:30 to 7:30 p.m., a coalition of environmental groups is holding a “people’s hearing with citizen testimony” at the same address.
Similar hearings have now been held in about a dozen states, and attendees report they were surprised to find there is no opportunity to testify. Federal officials instead stand at informational posters, some with elementary-school titles such as, “Why Is Oil Important?” You can talk to them, but if you want to comment for the record on the actual drilling plan in question, you’re instead directed to a bank of laptops to type out your views.
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One account of a meeting held in South Carolina said it was like being “herded along an indoctrination line. With only one side of the issue on display — pro-oil drilling.”
The hearings have so angered the public in other states that oil-drilling opponents here have rented the room next door, along with a sound system, to hold a sort of shadow “people’s hearing.”
Says Johannes Ariens, the head of the Seattle chapter of one of the groups, the ocean-advocacy group Surfriders: “They don’t want to hear what the people of Washington really think of this plan, that is clear.”
There’s a lot of this not wanting to hear going around these days, isn’t there?
This past week we had the sorry spectacle of state lawmakers exempting themselves from the Public Records Act. Arguably worse was the tornado of spin and falsehoods they unleashed after that. When that petered out, it was a mass retreat into the panicked politician’s favorite safety blanket: the formation of a task force.
At the core of the entire mess was contempt for the public.
This seems contagious. Consider the CEO of our light-rail agency, Sound Transit. Records released this past week show that when Peter Rogoff was first hired in 2016, a reporter, our own Mike Lindblom, asked a routine question about his salary as part of an “introduce-the-new-director” story.
Well that pretty much sums it up! From the feds to the state on down to the locals, you pesky people can go (insert raw Rogoff here).
Salaries of government employees are public for the same mundane reason government employees should deign to take citizen testimony. Because: They work for the public. Does this really have to be said?
Ditto with state legislators. Their office records are actually your records, because you are their bosses. That this is now a matter of controversy shows how much lawmakers have lost touch with their reason for being.
For the record, Sound Transit’s Rogoff, who was inexplicably just given a 5 percent raise, makes $328,545. Your tax dollars at work.
Now it’s fine with us in the media if we’re told to go bleep ourselves. Happens daily! But there’s a real disregard for the public here, in this sham federal hearing, in those rigged, rushed legislative votes with no public input, with the imperious attitude of a civil servant who is then rewarded with a pay raise.
Amid all that I squirmed when up jumped the opportunistic Tim Eyman, shilling another of his endless initiatives. Only this one is unusually straightforward. It would make state lawmakers abide by the same public-records rules as everybody else. It would end this debate where it ought to have rested all along: with the public in charge.
This is what we’ve come to. People are having to organize their own “shadow” public hearings. State legislators are having to be electronically flogged with 10,000 emails to do the obvious. And I now stand with Tim Eyman.