Imagine learning that a court date or a city council meeting is to be held in two days. You show up at the door, only to be told by a guard that admittance is by invitation only. You will have to leave.
That, in essence, is how the administration of Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell seems to be handling public access regarding the hottest environmental issue facing the Old Dominion: uranium mining.
The McDonnell administration initially drew widespread criticism for planning closed sessions for a state government group working to recommend whether to end Virginia’s nearly three decades’ long ban on uranium mining. Officials then promised that some of the meetings will be open.
On April 4, McDonnell’s people held a meeting to discuss just that issue in Richmond. Yet the meeting sounded a very sour note.
Only two days’ notice was given that it would be held. Most of the public was not invited. A handful of select environmentalists, such as the Roanoke River Basin Association near where the uranium may be mined, were invited.
The meeting should not have been limited to a “pre-selected audience,” Megan Rhyne, executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit group, was quoted as saying in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She did praise McDonnell for at least having the meeting.
Perhaps, but the entire modus operandi of the McDonnell administration gravitates toward closed-door sessions with lots of lobbyists and big-time political contributors in tow.
And Virginia’s tendency toward closed-door politics is nothing new. The State Integrity Investigation, a collaboration of the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity, rated Virginia “F” for transparency, along with seven other states, including North Dakota, Michigan, South Carolina, Maine, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia. Five states rated highest, including New Jersey and California.
It seems the concept of government openness is still a new one to the McDonnell administration.