Open Public Meetings vs. Public Open House, or A Tale of Two Formats

During my first meeting with Dr. Goodman, Corey provided me with information about a presentation he had made to the California Council on Science and Technology. He had been invited to speak about Trust and Accountability in Science and Technology on October 18, 2010. The power point presentation along with the audio had been uploaded to YouTube. Go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4ImdD4praE&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLB806A03FBD576029

(The presentation is in six 12-minute parts. Watch it to find out much of what happened in the DBOC saga up to that point in time.)

That evening, I reviewed the entire presentation. My first impression was he is the science professor we all wished we had back in college, easygoing, well spoken, interesting to listen to and interested in his subject. He is possessed of the kind of love for science that can engender a similar love for science in his student. My second impression was, the public needs to hear what he has to say. (Even if one is a proponent of shutting down DBOC, one should listen to this presentation and see the power point slide presentation accompanying it.)

A week or two later, while attending a  performance at The Dance Palace Community Center, I ran into Dr. Goodman, who came to see the show with his wife and friends of theirs. Dr. Goodman informed me he is also  jazz and blues pianist, that was why he came for this particular performance. the DP is one of the fabulous venues we have here in Point Reyes. (For a small town, we have an amazing amount of talent not only living here, but also coming to town to present, perform, and offer their gifts, talents, and knowledge.

I told him I felt he must give his presentation locally; the people need to hear him and what he has to say. If people could only get the information, answer a lot of questions, they would be able to make an informed decision and we might be able to put everyone at ease.  (I know it is hard to believe coming from someone as outspoken as I have been, however I do believe in people and their ability to change their minds when allowed access to all the available knowledge.) He said he had already been thinking about it and wanted to find a way to make it happen.

Over the next few weeks, he worked on the presentation, the ad and the invitation, while I worked on getting a venue, securing sponsors as well as moderators, and getting the word out. Once the dEIS was out and the public meeting dates were set for October 18-20, we decided on October 16 for his presentation.

Late in the morning on Wednesday the 12th, the superintendent of PRNS emailed me the NPS’ decision to decline our invitation . The local papers go to press on Wednesdays and  on the stands on Thursdays. A similar letter had been forwarded to the papers encouraging the public instead to attend the NPS open house meetings.

On October 16, 2011, Dr. Corey Goodman made his presentation to a crowd of 150 people at the Dance Palace Community Center. I reserved the hall for two hours since we had to be out no later than 4 considering the next group was scheduled for a 6:30 PM presentation and needed access for their set up.

Dr. Goodman spoke for an hour and thirty-five minutes before opening the floor to the Q&A. The Q&A lasted until well after 3:30, two and a half hours. Corey continued to make himself available to anyone who still had comments or questions afterwards, outside the building. As upset as people were by the fact that the NPS scientists did not show up, they were equally satisfied with the presentation and even happier with Q&A . People said they felt ready for the NPS meetings to follow beginning two nights later.

When we arrived at the first of the NPS’s public meetings, we were greeted by an army of NPS personnel outfitted in their  uniforms replete with metal badges and nametags giving the appearance of the event being “Policed” by the NPS. Several commented, “Where are their guns?”, many reported feeling “intimidated” by the uniforms. Personally, I appreciated being able to distinguish the NPS personnel from the rest of the crowd.

Some of us were puzzled by the greeting, “Welcome to the EIS cocktail party.” Upon entering the Dance Palace Main Hall, we began to understand why the NPS people refered to it as such. Around the perimeter of the room were easels, most with enlargements of information from the dEIS. Interspersedamongst those easels were a few easels with blank writing pads and a scribe stationed nearby equipped with magic markers in black, blue, red, and green. The universal first comment was “Where is the presentation?

Neither a presentation nor a Q&A was to be had and we all felt we had been had. Furthermore, the majority of the scribes at the three meetings were not even from our park, the PRNS. In response to our “you-must-be-kidding” reactions, we were told the scribes were there to record our “comments and questions” and the boards with the EIS information are where the answers would be. Printed copies of the EIS , we were told, were also available on a table should the answers not be found on the easel boards provided. That same format was repeated Wednesday evening at Fort Mason in San Francisco and Thursday evening at Tam High in Mill Valley.

I came equipped with the chronology I had put together on my own as well as pertinent sections of the dEIS so that I could quote page and verse, and particular pages of Dr. Goodman’s Sunday power point presentations. I took my place in line at one easel after another to have my comments recorded. Having come as prepared as I did, my questions and comments were complete. If I attempted to make more than one comment people in line as well as NPS personnel asked me to step aside to “let others make comments”.

Something strange began to happen as I moved from easel to easel. I was being followed. An NPS agent would appear at the elbow of the scribe, shortly after I begain my comments. He would  interrupt my scribe telling her it was time for her break, or asking him if he wanted a break, or telling her that someone needed her across the room. This happened repeatedly yet only two agents took it upon themselves to do so. As to breaks, keep in mind these were merely two-hour sessions. In all the union jobs I have ever held, from the Restaurant Worker’s Union to the Teamsters Union, to the Retail Worker’s Union, I had to work three hours to be entitled to a break in the middle of the shift however, a two-hour shift earned no breaks.

To their credit, most scribes responded by saying either she did not need a break, or he wanted to finish my comments before going. I even had to tell one agent, “She can take her break as soon as I finish my comment.” (Curiously, though, after recounting this treatment to NPS agent DelOsso on Thursday evening he responded with “Huh! No one offered me a break on Tuesday night.”)

My husband and I had a long conversation with Melanie Gunn on Tuesday evening. During our tete a tete, the agent who had appeared at three different stations as I was offering my commentary came to stand next to Melanie. With his arms folded across his chest he stared straight ahead as we talked. I let five minutes go by before stepping between Melanie and Frank to ask the agent if there was something he needed. He said no but he didn’t leave Melanie’s side for another five minutes.

Perturbed by the treatment I received on the first two evenings, Thursday morning I purchased my own easel and wrote up my comments. Where appropriate I  attached relevant slides from Dr. Corey Goodman’s presentation of the previous Sunday. All togetherI had six sheets with me when I arrived for Thursday evening’s meeting .

I approached Cicely Muldoon, the superintendent of PRNS, told her how my comments had been received the prior two evenings, explained that I had written my comments, brought them with me, and asked her if she would hang them up with the others. I thought she went a bit pale at first but then she said, “As long as there is no profanity and no one’s name is mentioned I think we can do that.” The tallest agent and the tallest scribe were asked to assist affixing my comments to the window where the comments were to be displayed. They both reiterated the admonition “there was no profanity on these sheets.”

Many people came to read what I had posted including all of the NPS peraonnel. With my iPhone, I eventually photographed every NPS agent and scribe making their way around the room to see what had been posted.

It dawned on me that this most likely was the first time most of them gained access to any of this information, no wonder they each came by and spent time reading every word and studying Dr. Goodman’s “slides”. Neal Desai returned four times to read my posted comments;, Gordon Bennett five times – I have the photos.

On a final note, the NPS has never opened itself up to public questions in a public forum at any time over the past four years. These three meetings were no exception. The people claiming legal bases for the NPS’s approach to the matter were not the scribes nor were they available for question or comment. The people involved with the Becker report(s) with the answers to scientific questions were not the scribes nor were they available for questions or comment. As scientists and authors of the scientific papers behind the dEIS, the NPS scientists have a government obligation to respond to scientific criticisms. Specifically, the Department of the Interior Scientific Integrity Policy (1/28/11) states:

“I will welcome constructive criticism of my scientific and scholarly activities and will be responsive to their peer review.”

 I leave you with a quote I found recently:

“In science, it often happens that scientists say, “You know that’s a really good argument; my position is mistaken,” and then they actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn’t happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day.” (emphasis added) ~Carl Sagan, 1987

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