Pa. Game Commissions handle business in different
Pa. Game Commissions handle business in different manners
By Bob Frye, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, January 8, 2012
Sportsmen spend more supporting Pennsylvania Game Commissioners than they do Fish and Boat Commissioners, but get less access for their money.
Expense reports acquired for each agency under the state's "Right to Know" law reveal that the Game Commission - using hunter and trapper dollars -- spent $40,235 to reimburse its eight commissioners for meals, lodging and travel in 2010, the last calendar year for which complete figures are available.
The Fish and Boat Commission, by comparison, spent $26,939 of anglers' and boaters' money to reimburse its 10 commissioners for similar expenses in 2011.
Fish and Boat Commissioners met, as a group, more often with sportsmen, though.
They held four quarterly meetings in 2011. All were open to the public. They also held three meetings of their fisheries committee. One was attended by as few as two commissioners; one by as many as eight. All were advertised in advance, and anglers and boaters were able to sit in, offer comments and listen to the interaction between agency employees and commissioners.
"We want people there," said commission press secretary Rick Levis. "We want public participation at our meetings. Anglers and boaters are buying licenses and registering boats and we want their input, so we provide that opportunity."
Game Commissioners - who a year ago were publicly touting their "transparency" -- operate differently.
They held four quarterly meetings open to the public last year. A special voting meeting Dec. 20, which lasted about 10 minutes, was also held.
Earlier that same day, though, seven of the eight commissioners met behind closed doors in a "work group" session for nearly eight hours to talk with staff about wildlife management, habitat management, information and education, law enforcement and legislative issues. Commission president Ron Weaner of Adams County denied a request by the media to attend.
Expense reports show all eight commissioners also met Aug. 9 for another work group session. That meeting was not advertised, was not open, and no agenda was released beforehand and no minutes were released afterward.
Such closed gatherings are not unusual. Commissioner Greg Isabella of Philadelphia said commissioners hold one prior to each of their quarterly meetings to talk about ideas they might want to pursue, hear staff proposals and ask questions.
"They're a time for exchanging information. No votes are taken," Isabella said.
That's not reason enough for the meetings to be closed, though, said Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel to the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association.
The state's Sunshine Law, with just a few exceptions, requires agencies such as the commission to meet in public any time a quorum of members gathers for "deliberation," she said.
Only a judge can determine if Game Commissioners are violating that, she said. But if they are discussing agency business for the purpose of making a decision - then or later -- "they may be crossing that line," she added.
"That fact that there are no votes being taken is not really relevant," Melewsky said. "The purpose of the Sunshine Law is to allow the public to witness where policy comes from and its intent for the community. If the public can't witness those deliberations taking place, and has no idea what the conversation was leading up to a vote, the yes or no vote itself doesn't tell you anything.
"If deliberation occurs, that should be happening at a public meeting."
Randy Santucci of Pittsburgh, president of the Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, agreed, saying that if commissioners are discussing things like seasons and bag limits in private, it's "na´ve" to think comments offered by sportsmen at public meetings weeks later matter.
"It just seems like they're going through the motions. Why are we getting a finished product? We should be a part of the process. We're not," Santucci said.
Don Heckman of Camp Hill, a director for Pennsylvania's National Wild Turkey Federation chapter, said that if subcommittees comprised of just a few commissioners meet in private, that's OK.
"But I would not be in favor of or support or agree with any kind of board that meets, without public notice, as a group," he said.
For now, though, Game Commissioners intend to continue as they have.
"We've been told that we're operating within proper bounds, so the board has chosen to go this way. That's our policy," Weaner said.
Game and Fish and Boat Ccmmissioners are volunteers; they do not draw a salary.
They are, however, reimbursed for expenses such as hotel stays, mileage and meals. Here's how much each recouped, rounded to the nearest dollar, according to expense reports.
Game Commission, calendar year 2010
1. Tom Boop, Northumberland County: $2,195
2. Ron Weaner, Adams County: $2,430
3. Dave Putnam, Centre County: $2,998
4. Greg Isabella, Philadelphia: $5,125
5. Jay Delaney, Luzerne County: $5,204
6. Bob Schlemmer, Westmoreland County: $5,611
7. Dave Schreffler, Bedford County: $5,718
8. Ralph Martone, Lawrence County: $10,953
Fish & Boat Commission, calendar year 2011
1. Steve Ketterer, Dauphin County: $1,362
2. Bill Worobec, Lycoming County: $1,540
3. Tom Shetterly, Washington County: $2,140
4. Norman Gavlick, Luzerne County: $2,256
5. Warren Elliott, Franklin County: $2,305
6. Ed Mascharka, Erie County: $3,086
7. Bob Bachman, Lancaster County: $3,208
8. Glade Squires, Chester County: $3,370
9. Bill Sabatose, Elk County: $3,378
10. Len Lichvar, Somerset County: $3,894