Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell stepped into the proverbial sage grouse doodoo in Craig last month.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, an agency under Jewell’s authority, is considering a proposal to list the sage grouse as an endangered species. Colorado has a demonstrated history of working with private property owners and species conservation experts to protect and restore species without the need for the extreme step of listing. Jewell and Gov. John Hickenlooper toured a ranch in Moffat County to see what could be done to provide habitat and protections that would allow the grouse to thrive and rebuild their population. After the tour, they returned to Craig for a public meeting at the American Legion hall.
All three Moffat County commissioners and four of seven Craig City Council members attended the meeting, which had been advertised as being an open community forum. The commissioners even posted a public notice of the meeting, as all three commissioners planned to attend. About 40 people were there.
One person was turned away.
When a reporter for the Craig Daily Press, who had accompanied the delegation to the ranch, arrived at the legion hall, a Jewell aide would not allow her to enter. He said that the secretary had banned reporters from the meeting to ensure there could be a frank discussion of the issues.
The commissioners were upset and called the newspaper to ask the reporter to return. When she got back, she was denied access again.
The interior secretary’s action is an outrage. Where shall we begin? While Colorado’s open meeting laws do not apply to her, all governmental employees have a responsibility to be transparent in their actions. Her decision to ban a reporter was a terrible disservice to the governor of Colorado and the local elected officials, who were painted by the same cloak of secrecy, and an insult to the residents of northwest Colorado, who deserved to be informed of the actions of and discussions by a member of the president’s cabinet, the governor of their state and seven of their locally elected officials in a public meeting that took place in their backyard.
But more than that, how in the world does the reporter’s decision to pursue a career in journalism subject her to a double standard where she was denied the right to attend a public meeting that anyone else was welcome to attend? How can it be right for a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker to be welcome to attend a public meeting, but for a journalist to be banned?
Jewell’s decision to ban the reporter was both a horrendous error of judgment and an insult to the concept of the public’s right to observe and influence its government. She should be ashamed of herself! She should apologize to both the reporter and the people who read the Craig Daily Press, and she should pledge to never repeat the mistake again. If she cannot or will not do so, she should find another career that doesn’t demand public accountability.
Greg Romberg is president of Romberg and Associates, a government relations and public affairs firm. He lives in Evergreen with his wife, aurie, and three daughters.