Is TWRC Violating the Sunshine Law?

Commissioner's statement indicates that could be the case

Monday, September 29, 2008 - by Richard Simms
<i>Thomas H. Edwards represents West Tennessee counties Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin, Henderson, Henry, and Perry. </i>
Thomas H. Edwards represents West Tennessee counties Benton, Carroll, Decatur, Hardin, Henderson, Henry, and Perry.

EDITORIAL OPINION
Important decisions regarding the management of Tennessee's fish & wildlife are being made behind closed doors, perhaps in violation of Tennessee law. One wildlife commissioner recently said as much.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission is the authority responsible for wildlife & fisheries management in Tennessee. The thirteen wildlife commissioners are political appointees, serving on staggered terms. Regardless of the recommendations made by professional TWRA wildlife and fisheries biologists, all governing rules, regulations, limits and seasons must be voted on and passed by a majority of wildlife commissioners before becoming law.

In August TWRA Chief of Fisheries Bill Reeves recommended that the Kentucky Lake creel limit on crappie be lowered to 15 per person per day, the same as the established statewide creel limit that applies to most East Tennessee anglers.

There was immediately a great hue and cry by Kentucky Lake fishermen, boat dock owners and other tourism-related businesses. A public meeting on the issue was recently organized in Paris, Tenn.

According to outdoor writer and crappie guide Steve McCadams (my good friend), Wildlife Commissioner Thomas “Bub” Edwards of Paris addressed the crowd of just over 100 people and said, “Lowering the daily creel limit of crappie on Kentucky Lake to a mere fifteen fish will not happen.”

Edwards was joined at the meeting by fellow commissioner Skip Simonton of Covington.

Mr. Edwards wrote the exact same thing in a September 9th e-mail to me on the issue. Mr. Edwards wrote, "Thank you for your comments. The creel limit will be 20 or 30, not 15."

I find it extremely interesting, and distressing, that a single Wildlife Commissioner on a panel of thirteen can say that anything "will not happen" prior to the discussion and vote scheduled for Oct. 22-23. (I know there was a second Commissioner present... that is two out of thirteen... far from a majority).

Note that Mr. Edwards did not say, "I will do everything in my power to see that this doesn't happen," or words to that effect. He said bluntly, "it will not happen."

Mr. Edwards' definitive statement illustrates what many people have long known to be true. Decisions by the TWRC about our wildlife management and sporting opportunities are often not made in an open public forum and abiding by the "Sunshine Laws" outlined in Tennessee law.

Title 8, Chapter 44 (T.C.A. 8-44-101-201) - The general assembly hereby declares it to be the policy of this state that the formation of public policy and decisions is public business and shall not be conducted in secret.

Those who follow the wildlife commission closely know that there are often key members who carry the majority of the political clout... and other commissioners simply walk in lockstep to what the more influential commissioners "suggest" that they do.

I am not politically-savvy enough to understand how some commissioners achieve such status... but I know it is true. Their staggered terms are intended to prevent any single political power structure from gaining too much clout, for too long. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I am not saying that Mr. Edwards' statement regarding the Kentucky Lake crappie creel limit is the wrong decision. I understand and respect all the Kentucky Lake anglers who agree with, and support what Mr. Edwards had to say. I said the same thing when the crappie creel limit was lowered in East Tennessee two years ago. I continue to express that I don't care where the statewide crappie creel limit is set. I simply believe that, barring biological justification for a difference (of which there is none in this case), the same creel limit should apply to all crappie anglers across the state.

Regardless of anyone's feelings on the creel limit, Mr. Edward's definitive statement regarding the issue saddens me. It indicates that he knows exactly how the majority of wildlife commissioners will vote on October 23 and that this decision, and I believe many others, are made far from the light of "The Sunshine."


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