Formalizing the Political Subcommittee

As part of the organizational restructuring efforts of 2009, several subcommittees were formed to decentralize management and to include more key stakeholders in decision-making. The Political Subcommittee, which focuses on all of Burning Man’s government relations, grew out of this new management structure.

The Political Subcommittee is comprised of a cross-section of board, executive committee, senior staff and other staff who have the knowledge, connections and brain trust to advise the board on making high-level political decisions that affect the future of Burning Man. Since these decisions affect a multitude of departments, representation on the committee covers Playa Safety, Law Enforcement Agency Liaison and Legal, to name a few.

Formally created in the Fall of 2009, the Political Subcommittee has recently focused its discussions on BLM and Pershing County — Burning Man’s two most significant political relationships.

Federal Government Relations

In 2008 the Bureau of Land Management saw a lot of turnover in its Winnemucca office, the branch that administers the Burning Man permit. The changing of the guard made the negotiations for the 2009 event more difficult than they have been in years. First, BLM did not give a draft of the permit stipulations to Black Rock City, LLC (BRC) until it was very late in the event planning cycle. In fact the stipulations were issued later than they ever had been in the past. And the draft contained changes about which BRC had not been given proper notification. One change was that BRC was being required to pay yet another law enforcement agency, the Nevada Department of Investigations (NDI), for its policing efforts in Black Rock City.

BRC took issue with this for several reasons, including the lack of transparency in the decision to make this change in policy, as well as whether NDI’s efforts were even needed, since BLM already does undercover drug enforcement. Furthermore, the previous years that NDI chose to attend Burning Man had been financed by either BLM or NDI, not BRC. Finally, NDI’s focus is on large-scale narcotics trafficking (as opposed to simple possession), which has not been a problem in Black Rock City. While BRC recognizes NDI’s right to enforce the laws of the State of Nevada at Burning Man, BRC disagrees with being made to pay for that investigation — especially when there is no large-scale drug trafficking in Black Rock City. After much last-minute negotiations, a compromise was reached whereby NDI’s operations would be bare bones and financed by NDI, BLM and BRC jointly. Also, BLM agreed to do a better job of keeping BRC in the loop about next year’s permit and stipulations.

Other ongoing issues include BLM’s Cost Recovery process. In 2007, BLM switched from charging Burning Man a per-person-per-day charge to a more complicated method requiring BLM to document and justify all of its expenditures. While the switch seemed to make sense on one level (BLM’s regulations technically require Burning Man to pay under this method), the actual practice of documenting costs has been a nightmare for both BLM and BRC. In December 2009 BRC finally received BLM’s documentation and accounting for 2007. A thorough review by BRC staff will indicate whether there are still any outstanding issues. BLM’s Cost Recovery for 2008 is still outstanding, not to mention 2009. However, BRC is hopeful that both years’ documents are forthcoming and that BRC and BLM can cooperate to institute a better system for tracking BLM’s costs associated with the Burning Man event.

In the Fall, Burning Man once again passed BLM’s site inspection with flying colors. 2010 marks the fifth year of Burning Man’s current five-year permit. BRC has already begun the application for a new five-year permit for 2011 through 2016.

State, Local & Native American Relations

Burning Man’s ongoing relations are positive with Pershing County, Washoe County, Nevada Highway Patrol (NHP), Nevada Department of Transportation, Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribal Reservation and Summit Lake Paiute Tribal Reservation. New contracts need to be negotiated with Pershing, Washoe, NHP and NDI in 2010, as all of these contracts (both single and multi-year) expired in 2009.

On-Playa Relations

The External Relations Team (XRT) again welcomed and acculturated visiting guests to Black Rock City. The Rocket Bus that has been used for numerous years to tour guests in was acquired from a volunteer and made a permanent part of the Burning Man fleet. A second vehicle, the “Vroom Vroom Room” was also utilized for some of the smaller tours. With its open-air living room design, it was perfect for great playa weather, while the Rocket Bus worked well in keeping visitors out of the dust (somewhat).

XRT intends to expand its program in the coming years, bringing on additional volunteers and increasing the number of people we invite to come take a tour of Black Rock City, and learn about the Burning Man culture.

Submitted by,
Ray Allen