Local Spin: Stake, Meet Heart
A public process for an invite-only crowd.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
Stakeholder: [steyk-hohl-der] A person or group that has an investment, share, or interest in something, as a business or industry.
You know, most days I feel pretty damn invested in Monterey County. I live in Salinas, by very deliberate choice. My kids go to school here, my husband works here, our idiot dogs bark here. We’re a full two years in to the home-remodel-project-from-hell here. We pay property taxes. We buy groceries at Star Market, movie tickets at Maya and coffee at the Cherry Bean. Cut me; do I not bleed lettuce green?
By the very definition of the word “stakeholder,” I am one. So why can’t I get in on the methyl iodide stakeholders meeting being held Friday at the offices of the Grower-Shipper Association of Central California, just a few blocks from my house? It’s so close, in fact, GSA President Jim Bogart can probably hear my dogs barking. (And barking, and barking… )
At least, I think the meeting is at the GSA office. Nobody will tell me for sure, and that location is based on a rumor I can’t confirm. It’s possibly happening at the offices of county Agriculture Commissioner Eric Lauritzen, who isn’t holding or facilitating the meeting despite Supervisor Simon Salinas telling him he needs to hold and facilitate one. Salinas, who allegedly initiated the meeting, said he will not be attending and has no idea when or where it is. I also talked to Supervisor Jane Parker’s chief of staff, Kristi Markey, who said she thought Salinas was hosting, then muttered something about the Brown Act before saying Parker wasn’t invited and most certainly doesn’t know where it is.
I got an email from Lauritzen saying we needed to ask Bogart or Planned Parenthood representative Traci Townsend (fetuses, represent!), both of whom apparently are facilitating the meeting – and controlling the hell out of the guest list. I also fought through six sweaty rounds of “You’re wrong… no, you’re wrong” with ag attorney Jeff Gilles, who as we speak is crossing me off his Christmas party invite list and most definitely is not going to tell me where the meeting is. Not even after I promised, semantically speaking, I wasn’t going to send a reporter.
And I really wasn’t. I wanted to go myself, sit in the back and listen. But that, Gilles says, might make people nervous.
I get it. My husband says I make coffee nervous.
But here’s what I want to know.
At its Nov. 15 meeting, the Board of Supervisors was asked to consider an agenda item asking them to take a stance against the use of the highly controversial agriculture fumigant methyl iodide. The stance – a proclamation, a resolution, whatever – would have been largely symbolic, because the state Department of Pesticide Regulation controls the registration of pesticides. If a grower wanted to use methyl iodide, and wasn’t bound by buffer zones or other regulations that prevented its use in a certain area, they could. And they could file a permit with Lauritzen’s office and apply methyl iodide next week.
So how is it, then, that while the Board of Supervisors decided to engage stakeholders before making or not making this symbolic gesture – a move that had Salinas telling County Administrative Officer Lew Bauman to get Lauritzen to handle it – the process instead is being handled completely out of the public eye, probably in the offices of a powerful ag lobbyist group, with a list of invited guests that nobody will release to the media?
“I said, ‘Let Eric facilitate,’ and he didn’t feel comfortable talking, but he’s going to be there and take notes,” Salinas says. “But the two folks running it will be Bogart and Townsend. The point is to get them to dialog. They could have an hour meeting and decide there’s no sense in meeting anymore.”
Then again, we may never know. They might have a giant group hug and talk about their feelings and decide to guzzle methyl iodide like Kool-Aid. Or the growers might slap their foreheads and say, “Methyl iodide? What were we thinking?” Who knows. This process is meant to engage stakeholders and drive a larger public process, but by my definition, the public isn’t being allowed to participate.
Who has a greater stake in this than county residents?
Jim Bogart spoke with Weekly reporter Sara Rubin and refuses to confirm the meeting’s time and location. Townsend won’t return phone calls. Gilles says this meeting was never meant to be driven by the county – a surprise since Simon Salinas thinks this is the meeting he ordered.
Bogart tells Rubin: “I don’t think I should take shots for convening this meeting.” That’s true. But Salinas, Bauman and Lauritzen, who are all operating on the taxpayer’s dime, are fair game.
And they should have never let their meeting become Bogart’s and Townsend’s to convene in the first place.
MARY DUAN is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at email@example.com, and follow her at twitter.com/maryrduan.