Raw Milk Advocates Call on Attorney General Coakley to Investigate MDAR Commissioner Scott Soares

For Immediate Release


Alexis Baden-Mayer, 202-744-0853, alexis@organicconsumers.org
Jan Buhrman, 508-360-4491, jan@kitchenporch.com
John Mayer, 925-681-9780, johnm@organicconsumers.org

Raw Milk Advocates Call on Attorney General Coakley to Investigate MDAR Commissioner Scott Soares

Scores of Citizens Denied Access to Public Hearing on Controversial MDAR Proposal Against Raw Milk

Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (MDAR) blocked
scores of citizens from participating in a public hearing held on
Monday, May 10, 2010, to examine controversial proposed regulations
restricting public access to raw milk.  The Organic Consumers
Association (OCA) has sent a formal letter of complaint (see below) to
Attorney General Martha Coakley seeking a full investigation of what is
a serious violation of the state's open meetings law.  OCA is a
national organization with thousands of members in Massachusetts.  It
promotes healthy organic foods such as raw milk.

Last Monday,
May 10, hundreds of citizens, and at least one dairy cow, descended on
the State Capitol to protest and testify against proposed MDAR
regulations that would end, for all intents and purposes, the ability
of most Massachusetts citizens to obtain fresh raw milk directly from
the farm.  The proposed regulations would put out of business many
family farms during these hard economic  times.  

Despite the
peaceful nature of the public hearing, scores were kept from attending
the proceedings and were not provided with any alternative means to
hear, see or participate in them.

"These dictatorial proposed
rule changes have sparked outrage among Massachusetts milk drinkers and
dairy farmers," said Jan Buhrman, a chef and farmer advocate who
attended the hearing.  "The Department of Agriculture knew this was a
contentious issue, and yet the hearing was held in a room much too
small for the number of attendees.  We call upon Attorney General
Coakley to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation and force MDAR
and Commissioner Soares to comply with Massachusetts law regarding
public meetings."

Commissioner Soares has violated the
Massachussetts open meetings law.  The proper and immediate sanction is
to do it right - open this process anew and conduct another public
hearing with no lock-outs and full and fair public participation.

Attorney General Martha Coakley can be reached at (617) 727 2200, ago@state.ma.us

Robert Nasdor, Director, Division of Open Government, can be reached at (617) 727 2200, Robert.Nasdor@state.ma.us

MDAR Commissioner Scott Soares can be reached at (617) 626 1701, Scott.Soares@state.ma.us


May 13, 2010
Attorney General
Martha Coakley
Office of the
Attorney General

One Ashburton Place,
20th Floor Boston,
Massachusetts  02108  
Via Email, Fax and Overnight Certified Mail 
Attn: Robert Nasdor,
Division of Open Government
Re: Open Meeting Law

Dear Attorney General Coakley:

I am writing to ask you to investigate an open meeting law violation that
occurred on Monday, May 10, 2010 during a hearing conducted by the
Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources ("DAR").

The meeting occurred pursuant to a notice advertising changes to the DAR's
regulations regarding raw milk.  It
took place in meeting rooms D and E on the second floor of 100 Cambridge Street
in Boston.  A number of people (we
estimate between 50 and 75) were prevented from entering the hearing room by
DAR staff who stated that allowing additional people to attend the hearings
would exceed the rooms' capacity. These people were directed to another room that lacked any visual or
sound connection to the hearing room. Only as individuals left the hearing room were additional people
allowed, on a one-by-one basis, to enter the hearing room.  As a result, a large number of
interested persons were prevented from attending the meeting at all.

I strongly believe that preventing people from entering the meeting
violates the open meeting law, which provides:

All meetings of a governmental body shall be open to the public and any
person shall be permitted to attend any meeting except as otherwise provided by
this section. G.L. c. 30A, § 11A1/2. 

In this
case many "person[s]" were not "permitted to attend" this
meeting.  No exceptions in § 11A ½
apply, as there was no declaration of an executive session and no basis for
excluding anyone.  The same is true
under the version of the Open Meeting Law that will become effective on June 1,
2010.  G.L. c. 30A, § 20(a).

There is no exception for a room that is too small, as DAR claimed. I
recognize that there are codes limiting the number of people in hearing
rooms.  That places the burden on
the agency to secure a large enough room or at least to provide for video and
audio feeds into and from any room holding people who are turned away from the
live hearing.  Responsibility for
the size of the room falls upon the agency having control over the
arrangements, not upon members of the public who are trying to exercise their
rights to address and petition their government.  Failing to provide adequate space cannot be allowed as an
excuse for non-compliance with the open meeting law.

Moreover, the DAR itself anticipated a large amount of interest in its
proposed regulations.  In an
attempt to reduce attendance, it posted an announcement on its website after
hours on Friday, May 7, attempting to withdraw a controversial provision of the
proposed regulations and contacted at least one large organization, which
withdrew its request for its members to attend.  Enforcing the government's open meeting
responsibilities to allow "any person . . . to attend any meeting" is
particularly important when the agency tries to match room size and audience by
taking active steps to reduce attendance instead of providing a large enough
room, with overflow capability by video and audio feed.  The DAR is not, after all, without
resources to comply with the minimal open meeting burdens that the legislature
has imposed upon it.  

I respectfully request an investigation.  

Alexis Baden-Mayer,
Political Director
Organic Consumers

cc: Deval Patrick, Governor     
Ian A. Bowles,
Scott J.
Soares, Commissioner


Learn more at www.organicconsumers.org/raw-milk


The Organic Consumers Association (OCA) is an online and grassroots non-profit 501(c)3 public interest organization campaigning for health, justice, and sustainability. The OCA deals with crucial issues of food safety, industrial agriculture, genetic engineering, children's health, corporate accountability, Fair Trade, environmental sustainability and other key topics. We are the only organization in the US focused exclusively on promoting the views and interests of the nation's estimated 50 million organic and socially responsible consumers.

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