Sunday, September 11, 2016

Ditching boards and commissions a bad idea by the ODNR

Well, pass the buck and shuffle the blame, the current Ohio Department of Natural Resources has risen finger-pointing to a degree unmatched during any other administration.

With a year and a few months left before the Kasich Administration hands over Fountain Square’s keys to another troupe of bureaucratic appointees, efforts are afoot to see that the public has less access to the inner sanctum of the agency.

Such access comes in the form of boards, commissions, councils and such like. On paper anyway the Natural Resources Department has 17 boards, councils, and commissions. These organizations are (or were) fueled by concerned volunteer citizen-activists who happily donated their time to watch over the affairs for which the respective bodies were created.

The rundown on the advisory councils, commissions, boards are: the Clean Ohio Trail Fund Advisory Board; the Coastal Resources Advisory Council; the Council on Unreclaimed Strip Mine Lands; the Forestry Advisory Council; the Geology Advisory Council; the Natural Areas Council; the Oil & Gas Commission; the Oil & Gas Leasing Commission; the Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Council; the Parks & Recreation Council; the Reclamation Commission; the Reclamation Forfeiture Fund Advisory Board; the Recreation & Resources Commission; the Scenic Rivers Advisory Councils (14, or the number of impacted watersheds);  the Water Advisory Council; the Waterways Safety Council; and the Wildlife Council.

Some of the delegations are empowered to bark loudly. Meanwhile, at least one entity – the eight-member Ohio Wildlife Council – has enough needle-point teeth to bite if it believes the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s fish and game law proposals are not according to Hoyle.

However, some of these entities exist in name only; carefully crafted bureaucratic Potemkin villages intended to impress elected officials as well as fool the public into believing the Kasich Administration really does listen to the heart of it all.

Looks are deceiving, of course, and never more so than when a political fa├žade is built to hide how genuine public input is less vital than assuring that the Natural Resources Department can operate with minimal public interference.

While the Wildlife Division’s Wildlife Council is a third rail when it comes to agency oversight bodies – and thus would politically electrocute any bureaucrat  looking to tamper with the members – many/most of the other groups are much less well protected.

Indeed, at least several of the groups are endangered species; possibly even all ready having become extinct. All, by the way, after originally receiving initial protection from the Ohio General Assembly at the time of their creation; a legislative birthright if you will.

Case in point: The Natural Areas Council – a group that lives on paper, which is really not worth all that much. The reason being, Governor Kasich has yet to appoint any of the scientists and naturalists presented to him since the legislature breathed new life into the council.

When asked about thumbing its nose at the Ohio General Assembly, the Natural Resources Department said through one of its spokesman that: “The work of the Council is being accomplished through our normal stakeholder outreach, and that input can be offered to the Department through a less formalized and bureaucratic process.”

In talking with some naturalists familiar with the issue, they were sympathetically excused when their throats choked closed as the result of involuntary reflex.

Nor was (is) the Natural Areas Council the only Natural Resources Department board or commission being boxed up and placed in the Kasich Administration’s warehouse of alleged politically inconsequential and unnecessary frivolities.

Also being packaged with political bubble wrap and shipped to the warehouse is the Natural Resources Department/Office of Coastal Management’s Advisory Council. This council is a policy wonk group if there ever was one – yet a vital link between governmental expert wonks and civilian coastal issue wonks.
In explaining what happened in scrubbing this advisory council from the book of essential citizens’ work, a true-to-form Natural Resources Department mandarin stated: “That is not a decision that the governor or the director make. It is up to the legislative body called the Sunset Review Committee. Periodically, they review all advisory councils that are called for in Ohio law.”

You have to hand it to the Natural Resources Department and its minions; they’re good at passing the buck, shuffling the blame, and finger-pointing. Anything is game in an attempt to create a good old-fashioned deflection of responsibility.

Seriously now, it doesn’t take much understanding of statecraft to know that all it takes for a governor or his hand-picked Natural Resources Director to do is inform the Sunset Review Committee that each and every one of the 17 boards, councils and commissions are important for delivering transparency.

Yet by making it more difficult and convoluted for the public to provide input, expertise, criticism and – yes – oversight, the easier it will be for government to engage in subterfuge and mischief.

This is not why these bodies were legislatively born, and their deaths will serve no one other than the bureaucrats and the politicians

- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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