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Second take:  The water agreement 

Closed meetings: Good idea, or not?

By LEE JUILLERAT, Herald and News 11/13/09
  Secret meetings.. Confidentiality agreements.
KBC Note: In an open public meeting Tuesday, Southern Oregon legislators at the Klamath fairgrounds invited everyone; hundreds of people came. The people who spoke unanimously opposed the hydro agreement and KBRA, and not even one person supported the closed-door negotiations excluding public input. All were sickened that KWUA and Klamath County Commissioners would not come to hear their solutions and concerns. In Siskiyou County meetings Thursday, in 2 meetings, all but one person opposed the 'agreements' and secret meetings leaving out many stakeholders.

KWUA director Greg Addington favors the secret, non-transparent process void of public input. He agrees with his associates Glen Spain, Eugene attorney spokesman for PCFFA, and Troy Fletcher of the Yurok tribe, and PacifiCorp. To remind our readers, PCFFA, the Yuroks, and environmental groups petitioned in court against Klamath Irrigator's affordable power rate, irrigators lost, and now PCFFA and other environmental groups, the tribes, and government agencies have blackmailed irrigators...they'll agree to money for power for the farmers they litigated against if the farmers agree to their extreme environmental agenda of removing hydro dams, downsizing ag, giving up water and water rights, planting endangered fish in our warm shallow lake, and more.

   Stakeholder groups that helped write the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement (KBRA) and the more recent Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement have been criticized for a series of meetings that were closed to the public.

   As a condition of participating, representatives from various state and federal government agencies, irrigation districts, tribes, commercial fishermen groups and others had to agree not to issue any comments during the negotiations.

   Groups that didn’t participate in the talks, including off-Project water users represented by Tom Mallams, and others like Felice Pace, who edits a blog about Klamath River issues, and some news media have been critical of the closed door process.

   Why were the KBRA and KHSA talks closed to the public? Why were confidentiality stipulations enacted? Was it a good idea?

   Representatives of groups that participated in the negotiations defended the process, saying it allowed for open discussions that prevented posturing, built confidence among negotiators and eventually allowed stakeholders to voice disagreements and resolve differences.

   They also said the talks were closed but not secret, and involved representatives from Klamath and Siskiyou counties, state officials from Oregon and California, federal officials, members of environmental groups, tribes, fisheries and irrigators on and off the Klamath Reclamation Project and, for the hydroelectric talks, PacifiCorp officials.

   “It is certainly awkward,” said Greg Addington, executive director for the Klamath Basin Water Users, of the closed-door process. “But the fact is that in order to make settlements on complicated and sensitive issues, there has to be an environment where communications are protected. Parties have to be able to make statements and explore ideas without those statements being used against them.

   “This is why the majority of settlements occur in confidential settings, and the parties agree that statements in settlement discussion cannot be used against them in court.”

   Addington’s thoughts were largely echoed by Glen Spain, northwest regional director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations.

   “That’s the way you get frank discussion,” Spain said. “I suppose it is a necessary evil. If you get too big a table you can’t move forward. We didn’t want to play things out in the newspapers or the courtroom.”

Expressing ideas

   Mallams challenged the idea that confidential sessions allow people with different views to openly express ideas.

   “That’s not necessarily a productive environment,” he said. “It’s not necessarily a good outcome for the public and the stakeholder groups that were left out. It’s absolutely wrong. You can’t have secret meetings and not have the public involved from the start.”

   But Steve Rothert, a Trout Unlimited spokesman, said the talks generated a sense of confidence among stakeholders that allowed them to take a “collective leap of faith.” Because of the trust developed, he believes “even down the road we can trust the (stakeholder) parties. There is faith we will go forward.”

A ‘standard element’

   Toby Freeman, PacifCorp community manager, noted his company participated only in Klamath Hydroelectric Settlement Agreement talks. He said negotiations that involve financial matters, multiple parties and potential litigation are routinely handled behind closed doors.

   “Confidentiality is a pretty standard element,” he said.

Providing input

   Thomas Guarno, Siskiyou County counsel, said Siskiyou County supervisors publicly opposed the closed meeting process.

   Despite that stance, supervisors agreed to participate in confidential hydroelectric talks dealing with the possible removal of four Klamath River dams so they could provide input.

   “The board’s position has been that it has only participated as an alternative to settling a lawsuit,” Guarno said. “The board would prefer these discussions be in public.”

   As to claims that confidential talks are necessary because negotiations involved potential litigation, Guarno contends there could have been agreement that nothing said during the meetings be used in court and that policy decisions be handled in public.

   Troy Fletcher, policy analyst for the Yurok Tribe, said the issues were so numerous and complex, and involved several different perspectives, that it was difficult to move forward without closed talks. In previous years, he said public discussions resulted in no significant action.

   “Posturing or taking a big hard-line position doesn’t work well,” Fletcher said. “We did need to have a window of opportunity to sit down and reach solutions. We needed to sit down and have a change to kick ideas around.”

Democratic process

   Roger Nicholson, a Fort Klamath-area rancher who leads the Resource Conservancy, which represents upper Klamath Basin landowners, believes the closed sessions defied the open democratic process.

   “Where you see government activity behind closed doors it really makes a mockery out of the democratic process,” said Nicholson, who believes the news media should vigorously protest the confidential process. “They have openly violated the law.”

   Nicholson also believes that because of the closed sessions, people supporting the agreements lack widespread public support.

   “The ratepayers and the public have been denied process,” he said. “When do we get to participate?”

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