by Max Brantley
Sheffield Nelson is right, again.
His efforts to dig into the internal policy-making at the state Game and Fish Commission appear to be a big part of the reason that the ruling troika that now calls shots at Game and Fish has come up with a patently illegal proposal to draw up the agency's own, more restrictive version of the state Freedom of Information Act. I don't think this affront to transparency will withstand legal scrutiny. It's too bad the state and somebody's private lawyers will have to spend a ton of money coming to this conclusion. When it happens, ruling commissioners Craig Campbell, Emon Mahony and Rick Watkins perhaps should reimburse the legal fees. They can afford it. (I should have mentioned originally that this proposal was detailed in a story in the Democrat-Gazette this morning, available only to subscribers.)
This issue underscores, rather than obscures, the larger issue. Game and Fish is out of control. It views public input and control as a hindrance. With a dedicated stream of sales tax money and a windfall from gas revenue, it has continued on its expansive ways, with an exploding payroll and lavish perks (the famous one-vehicle-per-employee ratio a good example) even as hunting and fishing licenses have declined in the face of an increasing state population. Something is wrong with this picture. It's time to end Game and Fish's stature as an independent agency. By this latest proposal, it demonstrates that it views itself as unanswerable to any authority but the kingmakers of the controlling three-member Commission committee.
UPDATE: here's a copy of the draft of the Game and Fish Commission's own private FOI law, complete with a clause to prevent release of embarrassing stuff.
UPDATE II: Gov. Mike Beebe said in response to questions today that an end to state funding or a move to end the agency's independence would be potential consequences should the Commission continue on its path to attempt to write a more restrictive freedom of information rule for itself. That should nip the effort in the bid, but .... Beebe thinks getting the agency first to do right would be easier than a constitutional restructuring of the agency. I still think there are ample other reasons to reconsider the agency's independence, this being only the latest.
UPDATE III: Attorney General Dustin McDaniel piles on:
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel issued the following statement today regarding a draft proposal under consideration by the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission:
"We have reviewed the draft proposal being considered by the Game and Fish Commission, and I find it astonishing. It is unacceptable as a matter of law and policy, as it brazenly defies the laws ensuring transparency and openness in government.
"The Game and Fish Commission has absolutely no authority to exempt itself from any provision of the Freedom of Information Act.
"Had the Commission’s lawyers ever contacted us even once about this proposal, we would have worked aggressively to prevent this bad policy from ever being presented to the Commissioners."