Toxics Watchdogs Toy With Hiding Recordings of Public Meetings

California officials give transparency a lot of lip service, but it's usually the first thing sacrificed when it reveals inconvenient truths like incompetence, industry bias and moral bankruptcy. 
So one would think the very first meeting of a government review panel appointed to straighten out a dysfunctional agency, especially when the topic is housekeeping, would be something a consumer advocate could miss. But no, not this week's meeting of the Independent Review Panel created to oversee the scandal-plagued Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). 
Our top toxics regulator is known for lack of transparency, refusal to fulfill Public Records Act requests on grounds that don't always pass legal muster, and making bad decisions in the dark. So it was a shock to see that two of the three just-appointed panel members there to reform the agency weren’t sure that webcasts of public meetings should be made publicly available. 
Yes, you heard right. Two of three panelists tabled for the next meeting the proposal of the third panelist to make videotape of public meetings available immediately after those meetings. it's deeply troubling that the very independent panel that is supposed to recommend improvements to public participation in DTSC proceedings, and to improve lax permitting of and enforcement against hazardous waste polluters, is engaging already in the sort of suppression of public information that the department itself does so deftly. 
Gideon Kracov, a Senate-appointed attorney, saw nothing wrong with posting webcasts of public meetings — in fact if that was best practice, he said ithey should be posted. The good news is he was elected the panel's Chair. But Assembly-appointed toxicologist Arezoo Campbell, from the College of Pharmacy at Western University of Health Sciences, and Governor-appointed Mike Vizzier, former chief of the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health’s Hazardous Materials Division, didn’t agree.
Arezoo thought perhaps the public would get lost in too much information. Vizzier just didn’t like the idea of making public something that maybe didn’t need to be made public. So much for transparency, and forget that the panel itself needs to be held accountable to the public.
Sadly, these two panelists took their cue from the department that they are overseeing. Jim Marxen, DTSC flak extraordinaire, told the panel it was entirely up to them to decide if webcasts of public meetings would be posted on the web. Nothing evidently compels the panel to do that under open meeting laws, according to the counsel present. DTSC Director Barbara Lee asserted that any public meetings could easily be videotaped in government buildings, but she couldn’t guarantee the same if the panel decided to hold a public meeting in, say, Kettleman CIty, a community under toxic assault. This is the 21st century. All it takes is one person holdiing a camera. Surely, Ms. Lee knows that.
Arezoo Campbell obfuscated some more. She said that if certain panel meetings were public and others not, then the larger community might think there is a lack of transparency. Except, in fact there are parts of the panel's meetings that are closed, and thus not recorded, and parts that are public, and thus, well, public and so recordable and postable. Evidently, she didn’t get that memo. 
The fact is that in public meetings, there can be no expectation of privacy. To try to hide what is public by refusing to make it swiftly and completely accessible to the public is to confirm what poisoned communities fear — that if even the “independent” overseers of the DTSC act like the DTSC by wanting to hide what is legitimately public, prospects may be dim for true reform. We hope that isn't the outcome for this important panel that should do its work in the open and win back the public trust that the DTSC lost long ago.

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