Open Oregon opposes HB 3273 for adding too much secrecy to the arrest process

Open Oregon has sent a letter to the members of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Ballot Measure 110 Implementation regarding H.B. 3273. The bill would prohibit law enforcement agencies from releasing booking photos (“mug shots”) except in rare cases. 

Our letter reads, in part:

Open Oregon urges a no vote on this legislation. Government has the unique ability to take away someone’s bodily freedom and should never be allowed to do so in secret. Without a photo, it is impossible to fully identify an individual — be they an innocent citizen, a public school teacher, an elected official or a babysitter. It is in the general public’s interest to continue to make arrestee photos disclosable documents.

Our board’s media members say they have already changed their practices and rarely publish photos for low-level accusations. Additional regulation is not necessary.

According to our NFOIC colleague in Virginia, legislation like this was proposed there, but ultimately the legislature found that existing laws for extortion, computer threats and others were sufficient to combat the privacy violations. In Kentucky, in 2016, a law was passed to prohibit the commercial use of mugshots, which helped sidestep predatory websites. Those would be good alternatives to take here.

HB 3273 is slated for a work session May 24 at 8:30 a.m. and, depending on the outcome of that meeting, may have a public hearing after that.

Open Oregon opposes indefinite attorney-client privilege (HB 2478 – 2021 session)

The Oregon legislature is currently debating HB 2478, a proposal that would make documents under attorney-client privilege secret indefinitely. Currently, following a court of appeals ruling, the window is 25 years. Open Oregon believes this should remain the standard in the state. What follows is an excerpt of our testimony for a hearing of the House Committee on Rules on April 1.

Oregon’s 25-year sunset on the attorney-client privilege exemption is a recognition that government business is for the ultimate benefit of the public at-large.

Public bodies and those working in the public interest are unique clients. The work they do has the expectation of being in the public interest. No public client should expect to keep hidden forever the details of matters in the public interest.

Maintaining this privilege indefinitely will mean that many records — even those without privileged information — will need expensive attorney review in order to release. This will have a chilling effect on the public’s ability to learn about the workings of its government — even many decades after the fact.

The dawn of the information age, approximately 25 years ago, means that very soon the volume of emails and other digital information that will need to be reviewed for this potential privilege will soon overwhelm archivists and transparency advocates.

Maintaining the 25-year sunset is the best of both worlds. Government officials receive privilege for the pertinent duration of the activity and the public at large maintains their right to know. 

Thank you for providing the opportunity for public debate on this proposal. This is a complicated issue that deserves greater study and discussion due to its potential for unforeseen consequences. 

 

Open Oregon sends letter to Oregon Health Authority regarding secret vaccine committee meeting

Open Oregon, concerned about the report of a secret meeting by the Oregon Health Authority’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, today sent a letter to OHA Director Patrick Allen. The board urges the health authority to release any recordings of this meeting and to ensure that all future meetings are conducted in the open spirit of Oregon’s public meetings laws.

Read the complete letter below:

Re: Feb. 2 closed meeting of the Oregon Health Authority’s Vaccine Advisory Committee

Dear Director Patrick Allen:

This letter is on behalf of Open Oregon: A Freedom of Information Coalition. Open Oregon, a nonprofit dedicated to educating Oregonians about their rights to government information, objects strongly to the Feb. 2, 2021, secret meeting of the Oregon Health Authority’s Vaccine Advisory Committee.

The committee was established to “advise OHA on vaccine sequencing plans for Phases 1b, 1c and 2, with the goal of ensuring that communities most impacted by COVID-19 are included.”

The vaccine advisory committee appears to be subject to Oregon’s open meetings law: A body that has authority to make recommendations to a public body on policy or administration is a governing body. ORS 192.630.

While OHA might argue the body did not have a quorum deliberating toward a decision, nevertheless the views expressed by the committee members are vitally important to Oregonians trying to navigate and understand the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Closing the meeting to the public certainly violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the open meetings law. It also goes against Oregon’s strong and enduring tradition of government transparency.

If OHA argues no deliberations or decisions occurred, the agency’s position requires the public to simply trust that is indeed what happened.

We ask in the spirit of transparency — given that the lives of Oregonians are literally at stake — that OHA release any recording, notes or record of the Feb. 2, 2021, meeting.

If no recording exists in OHA custody, we respectfully ask that OHA inquire of the members of the committee if they have such a recording to provide for release.

We look forward to hearing from you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to acting board president Shasta Kearns Moore at openoregondotcom-at-gmail.com if you have any questions or concerns.

Shasta Kearns Moore
Vice President and Acting President, Open Oregon
A National Freedom of Information Coalition chapter

cc: Open Oregon Board
Therese Bottomly, Secretary/Treasurer
Duane Bosworth
Tim Gleason
Emily Harris
Mary Beth Herkert
Lisa Phipps
Norman Turrill
John Schrag
Kateri Walsh
Nick Christensen
Justin Mitzimberg
Adam Gibbs

 

We’re back!

Open Oregon has a new website with much stronger security. Our all-volunteer group appreciates your patience as we have worked to get our website back up and running after a hack in June 2020. We are working to update this older copy with our new and most up-to-date information as quickly as possible. Thank you.

Open Oregon calls for police misconduct records to be public

Outraged demonstrators on our streets are pushing elected officials at all levels to consider a host of criminal justice reforms: a ban on tear gas, mandatory use of body cameras and a full reassessment of local law enforcement agencies’ budgets and responsibilities. 

We’d like to add another: More transparency about police conduct.

Open Oregon, a member of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, shares the frustration of those stymied in their efforts to hold police agencies accountable.

And while calls for reforms have reached new heights, the lack of police accountability has plagued the system for decades.

In February this year, Michael Fesser, a black man, got a $600,000 settlement after his lawyers presented evidence that cops in the predominantly white Portland suburb of West Linn had harassed and falsely arrested him.

This occurred under the leadership of Chief Terry Timeus, who, years earlier, had been the subject of a wide-ranging misconduct complaint. A 100-page investigation of Timeus, paid for by the city in 2008, was hidden from the press at the time and Timeus continued to rise through the ranks.

What we still don’t know — because West Linn, like all Oregon police departments, keeps most personnel information secret  —  is how many officers quit, were forced to leave or were bought off when they complained about the ongoing internal problems.

“I’m aware of at least five who were paid to leave because they wanted to hold Timeus accountable and wanted a new chief,” says reporter Lee van der Voo, a former Open Oregon board member.

In 2017, The Oregonian/OregonLive published findings from a two-year investigation showing that dozens of Oregon police officers who had been fired for inept work (or worse) were still certified law enforcement officers with the ability to carry a badge and a gun.

After many challenges, The Oregonian/OregonLive won the right to see the misconduct records. But later, a Department of Public Safety Standards and Training (DPSST) official spelled out in an email to the Portland Police Bureau a way to keep those records from reporters in the future.

The lesson the public agency overseeing police certification had apparently learned? Figure out new ways to hide.

Two statutes are at the heart of why it can be so difficult to hold police in Oregon more accountable. One public records exemption keeps complaints confidential if police are disciplined. A separate state statute keeps investigations confidential if police are cleared of wrongdoing.

Police unions have even made these exemptions part of their contracts.

In both cases, records can still be disclosed if someone can successfully argue release is in the public interest. But “public interest” is not defined in law, and requestors must argue the right to see a record without knowing what the record contains. 

To rebuild public trust, we must have proposals for public oversight.

Specifically:

    • Findings of misconduct — either by state or local jurisdictions — should be by default available to the public;
    • Findings of serious misconduct and terminations for cause should be posted online in a searchable database maintained by the state.
    • DPSST decisions to withdraw or retain someone’s police credentials should be presumptively available to the public.
    • Public bodies should be required to disclose any settlements related to police conduct, whether settled out of court or by insurance companies on the public body’s behalf.

Police are given the ultimate authority of government: the power to detain, the power to maim and even the power to kill. With that power must come the trust it will be used responsibly. 

That trust today is perilously thin, particularly among black Oregonians. It will take many bold reforms to restore that trust. 

Adding more transparency and accountability must be among them.

 

Shasta Kearns Moore, Acting President

Therese Bottomly, Treasurer

John Schrag

Emily Harris

Justin Mitzimberg

Dawn Albright

Norman Turill

Duane Bosworth

Nick Christensen

Kateri Walsh

Sunshine Week 2020: Truth and accuracy require public records

Sunshine Week is coming up — the annual celebration of open government put on by our parent organization, the National Freedom of Information Coalition.

The year Sunshine Week will take place from March 15 to 21. To help our state’s news organizations celebrate, we have prepared some commentary for use.

Our Acting President Shasta Kearns Moore wrote a 791-word, first-person column available for use here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lstX6Msi99t_XDWR_ux60UDd7_bbfsAwZHMGjTYcBDI/edit?usp=sharing

If you need a headshot of Shasta Kearns Moore, you can download this one: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1sXwoRdnXSM4WdJ-AUEjv7gQqtikNx_M-/view?usp=sharing

Here are also versions that you can adapt to use as an editorial. There is a 575-word version and a 400-word version in this docx file: Open Oregon Editorials[4]

Thank you for helping to celebrate Sunshine Week!

Updated! Open Oregon’s Quick Reference Guide to Public Records

Thanks to a collaboration with Oregon Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall, an Open Oregon board member, our organization has been able to substantially improve and update the Public Records Guide that has been a beloved staple in classrooms, newsrooms and libraries across the state.

Please view the latest version here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1C87E9IRQHJ7uMHfhGu8fN3bh6L2Fu50sVX2A0eNz45s/edit?usp=sharing

The same easy-to-read information about Oregon Public Records Law is there along with tips for record seekers and keepers alike. Updated features include information about the 2017 legislative reforms, web links, a table of contents and a huge list of resources from local and national organizations interested in open government. Please enjoy and feel free to share with credit to Open Oregon.

What you need to know about 2017 records law reforms

Oregon’s top political leadership tripped all over themselves in recent months to make state and local governments easier for citizens to scrutinize.

The Legislature passed no fewer than four public records laws — pushed by the governor and attorney general — in the session that just ended. And the secretary of state weighed in unexpectedly with his own plan for improving government transparency. Statesman Journal