Columns » John Brummett

Game, fish, turkeys and irony



A fellow asked me the other day to explain all these columns of words in the Little Rock newspaper about this nasty sniping between Sheffield Nelson and the Game and Fish Commission.

I replied that my best explanation was that somebody with the paper did not know how to edit for length.

The fellow said that I knew good and well that was not what he had meant. 

So I told him: If he wanted me to elaborate on the substance of the matters being discussed, I could do that, but would rather not on account of its being boring and petty and an ego orgy. But I said that I would be eager to oblige if he wanted me to describe the comedic irony. 

He said for me to do that. Fine. Here is a quick example: 

Nelson, mad that the Game and Fish Commission did away with the fall turkey season that he got started when he was a commissioner, filed a suit challenging the legality of the way this new commission organized itself after he left. This was into subcommittees of emphasis by which three guys run the governing subcommittee in an unconstitutional usurpation, Nelson charged, of full commission authority.

Why does Nelson care? Well, he really believes in the autumnal hunting of turkeys, apparently. And some of the members of the three-member governing commission are parties to old feuds he has had — political, business and personal — going way back. And he needs something to do. And he likes being in the paper, having grown accustomed to it as a young utility executive and then a politician.

So the latest — and here is your first irony — is that Nelson has called on the attorney general to investigate that the full Game and Fish Commission approved a contract with a local public relations firm in two phases for the sum of  $50,000 and did so without first running the contract by the subcommittee charged with overseeing communications matters.

Are you with me? Nelson is suing to say that the subcommittee structure is illegal. Now he is complaining that a public relations contract ought to be investigated because it was not submitted to the subcommittee structure he believes to be illegal.

Talk about just looking for something to fuss about.

What really riled Nelson was that this public relations firm getting this little contract helped out on a Game and Fish news release accusing him of having gone along as a commissioner with certain administrative procedures that he now alleges to be inappropriate.

Nelson is right on this one. A state agency has no business hiring a public relations firm to help it put out a news release that has nothing to do with genuine public issues affecting fish or game, but merely hauls off and says that Sheffield Nelson is a no-good rascal. 

The Game and Fish Commission has no business putting out a news release like that even without the $50,000 help of a PR firm.

So now let us turn to another irony, this one regarding actions by the commission, which, as you know from reading this space, suffers an arrogance of power. That stems from the fact that we bestow on it constitutional status by which it functions with corporate-like independence outside the usual executive oversight of the popularly elected governor.

The other part of this PR firm's contract duty — beyond helping launch a personal attack on Nelson on agency letterhead — is to assist the commission's communications staff in getting media-trained and advising it further on honoring requests under the Freedom of Information Act, of which the commission is seeing a major spike, thanks mostly to Nelson's lawyer. 

A Game and Fish communications staffer was quoted as saying the firm that got hired was especially good because it was experienced in the corporate public relations sector.

Are you with me still? A public agency needs help in figuring out how to deal with the public. It needs help in abiding by the freedom of information law for public agencies. So it decides it can best get that help from a public relations firm experienced in the private sector and the corporate world.

My case is made again that we lose public accountability when we anoint state agencies as independent of those we popularly elect. If you put an agency in the constitution with its own independent status, then that agency, in time, will start thinking of itself, and behaving, as a private corporation, and a monopoly one at that.

Anyway, I am about to decide that the best way out of this Nelson-related soap opera is to reinstate fall turkey season. That is when we eat 'em, anyway.

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