Governor Just Doesn’t Get It
Opinion by Cat Urbigkit, www.RangeWriting.com
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon still just doesn’t get it. The it? Public transparency. Government in sunshine. The right of the Wyoming public to know what its government is doing.
In Monday’s meeting about the Oxy deal, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and Auditor Kristi Raccines asked for details as to what information about the deal will be released to the public and at what stage there will be opportunities for public review, should Wyoming be successful with its bid.
Balow specifically asked if there would be public disclosure should the state become the successful bidder and move on to due diligence. Although Gordon’s staffer Randall Luthi said that he expects the state would make an announcement about a successful bid, Gordon’s comments weren’t on par with Luthi’s statement.
Instead, Gordon said that if the state starts working on the next stage of its due diligence on the deal and “people start seeing notices of public hearings and things, they can assume that we were the successful bidder. If they don’t, they can assume that we were not.”
Balow pointed out, “Part of the public process is knowing where we are in the process, and understanding that public comment isn’t the necessarily public participation at every juncture.”
Balow then asked that if the state were successful, and the Wyoming State Loan and Investment Board moved on to holding discussions about how it will manage the assets, would those discussions be held in public? Gordon responded, “I would say that in terms of a management scheme, or a management party or something like that, would be subject to the normal RFP (request for proposals) process, etc. – also a very public process.” That was hardly a resounding answer in the affirmative.
Okay, I “get” that Gordon views the Oxy opportunity as an investment deal, something normally left to the executive branch to handle and manage. But Gordon is like a bull with his head down, prepared to trample the public’s right to know the details of one of the largest land deals in American history. Yes, it’s an investment, but it is far more than that – but Gordon doesn’t want to acknowledge that because that would mean giving up his control. He’s controlling information, the narrative, and the deal. Information is power.
In today’s meeting, Gordon addressed critics who have decried the state’s secrecy, responding that he had taken the land deal proposal to the legislature. Governor Gordon, your talks with a few legislators is not the same thing as being forthcoming with the public.
Gordon has committed to reporting the findings from due diligence to the Wyoming Legislature. Apparently when that report is released to the legislators it will then be public. Gordon said the purchase price will be part of that information, and said he has committed to holding public hearings in Carbon, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties.
From the get-go on this deal, Gordon has been tight-lipped, only occasionally offering tiny morsels of information to a public hungry to understand his vision for such a large investment. He pretends that releasing any information would only drive up the price, as if all the public wants to know is the purchase price. We want to know that, but there is so much more we need to know.
Governor Gordon, I concede that you have the right to withhold the bid amount involved in this confidential real estate deal. But your stubbornness to share any information with the public is appalling. Rather than selling the public on this deal, you’ve done the opposite, and that makes me question what I thought I knew about you as a public servant.
Governor Gordon, we the public deserve better than this. Either embrace the public’s need to know, or quit giving “public process” lip service.
For details about today's meeting, and the decision to submit a bid:
For background, read: