Here’s a remarkable piece of tape from a hearing of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission last week, which media reports have noted is well-stocked with campaign contributors from the energy industry.
In the clip Chad Sailor, communications director for Lt. Governor Jim Cawley is explaining to a reporter that testimony of drilling opponents was relegated to the back end of the hearing because they’d signed late on a “first come first served” witness list.
A unidentified woman from Pittsburgh overhears the exchange, and steps in to explain that there actually two witness lists, and protesters weren’t allowed to sign the same one that got the industry reps top billing. This is from an account friendly to protesters at the Checks and Balances Project.
I called Sailor to for an explanation, and he got right back to me. I asked if there were two witness lists, including one the protesters couldn’t get to. Yes and no, he said.
There aren’t many rooms that can accommodate a 30-member commission, plus staff, media and everyone from the public that want to attend, he explained. So they got a big room with an overflow auditorium a floor above with a closed-circuit TV feed.
There was a witness list in the main room, and another list in the room upstairs for those who couldn’t fit downstairs. So yes, he said, protesters who got there after the meeting started couldn’t get to the first list because the room was full. Both lists went to the lieutenant governor, who called the main room list first.
Sailor also said some protesters were there to disrupt the meeting, and that the commission stayed late so that everyone who wanted to speak was heard. This was confirmed by reporters who were there.
I’ve been to a lot of hearings like these over the years, and it’s my observation that somehow members of the public are usually shunted to the end, when the presiding panel members are tired and the TV crews have folded up and left.
I think everybody should have their say at public hearings, and access to the witness table should be even-handed and transparent. I also think protesters should be respectful of the rights of others to be heard.
You can find out more about the commission and its meetings and agenda at its website.
UPDATE: This came in from Tracy Carluccio of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network:
I was there and can verify what you reported. One more point – the meeting was publicly noticed for a 10:30 am start time. But it began an hour early. From what I understand, the members of the Commission were told about the hour early start item. However, many of us from the public did not know about it. I don’t know if they changed the time on their website prior to the meeting but those of us who traveled (I came from DRN’s office in Bristol PA) hours to get there had no notice of the change. I planned to be there before the start to sign up and arrived at about 10:00 am, well in advance of the start time and went in to sign up to speak. The “upstairs list” was already upstairs and I was denied entrance to the meeting room by the guards. So, the change in the start time made it impossible for the public who were not on the “inside” about the time change to sign up on the “inside” list. How did the first raft of speakers know to get there early? Did members of the Council call them? Was there an email notification to an elite group? Did the change in time meet sunshine law requirements? Even if it did, it made the frontloading of the speaker list even more difficult for us “outsider” public.
Delaware Riverkeeper Network