On Monday, October 17, 2011, Missouri basin governors or their representatives will meet for the second time this year with Army officials in Omaha, Nebraska, to discuss the future management of the Missouri River. The governors and Army officials held their first meeting back in mid-August. We never learned what the governors and the Army discussed or decided during that earlier meeting because the six GOP governors and one Democrat (Jay Nixon, D-MO) barred the public and the press from the proceedings. Governor Schwietzer (D-MT) did not attend the first meeting because he believed the gathering should be open to the public. He wanted transparency and a democratic process to prevail. He failed to achieve both objectives.
Once again, the majority of Missouri basin governors have decided to hold their discussions with the Army in secret. But rather than acknowledge that the meeting will be “closed to the public and press” or that its deliberations will be kept “strictly confidential.” Governor Heineman’s (R-NE) press release this afternoon detailing the meeting date and time only stated that discussions between the Army and governors will be held “in private.” That is a polite way of telling the public “to go to hell.” It’s also an implicit admission that participants in the meeting do have something to hide from the public. If everything was above board, there would be no need to keep the public and press from hearing the deliberations.
The public in the Midwest and Missouri Valley should be outraged that these meetings are held behind closed doors. Democracy demands transparency. The media in the region should be confronting the governors and military on the issue. The Army and the governors are deciding the future of the river without any public oversight. Officials are banking on the public remaining docile and obedient throughout the decision-making process – that people will trust their “leaders” and abide by their decisions. Trusting our “leaders” got us into the mess we now find ourselves in along the Missouri. Our “leaders” failed miserably this year. Their poor decisions contributed to the Great Flood of 2011. Why should we trust them to get it right in the future?
The Missouri basin public should demand total transparency in the decision-making process related to the future of the river. The Missouri is not the Army’s river, or the governors of the basin, or a select group of power plant owners, barge companies, or energy corporations. The Missouri is everyone’s river and the people of the Missouri basin deserve to decide its future.