Sunshine week 2017: Opinions and commentary

Sunshine Week 2017: Oregon newspapers weigh in on importance of transparency

The Corvallis Gazette Times:

http://www.gazettetimes.com/news/opinion/editorial/editorial-an-unusually-timely-sunshine-week/article_b9828c1a-c3ce-5bc4-873b-760a7e057188.html

The Mail Tribune in Medford:

http://www.mailtribune.com/opinion/20170312/our-view-blue-skies-return-for-sunshine-week

The Oregonian/OregonLive:

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/03/kate_brown_talks_transparency.html#incart_river_index

Followup:

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2017/03/kate_brown_will_drop_bill_maki.html

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Public records, meetings laws amendments proposed in new legislation

A bill that would impose time limits for public bodies to respond to public records requests and limiting fees they may charge for the records has been introduced into the 2011 Legislature at the request of Attorney General John Kroger. Senate Bill 41 would require a public body to respond to a record request and state the amount of any fees within “10 working days.” Senate Bill 47 would require meeting minutes to be available 7 working days after the meeting.

Read Senate Bill 41

Read Senate Bill 47

The Register-Guard Editorial: Shine light on tax breaks

Economic development programs need transparency

Oregon spends about $350 million per biennium on programs designed to promote economic development, mostly by providing tax breaks to companies that create new jobs.

Oregonians need a clear picture of what they’re getting from these programs, both because of their big price tag and because it’s essential that the expenditures yield actual results. The state Legislature will consider a bill in its 2011 session that would give people a better view of economic development programs’ cost and effectiveness. Read the full editorial.

Published: Monday, Jan 3, 2011

New Public Records and Meetings Manual adds time limits for records replies, etc.

Attorney General John Kroger has added time limits for responses to public records requests and imposed a public interest requirement for fee waivers in the newly published, January 2011, edition of the Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual. In a press release, Kroger said,

“Changes to the manual reflect new legislation, recent court decisions and a fresh look at previous interpretations of the law. Key changes include:

  • “The manual revisits a longstanding legal interpretation that allowed public bodies to take as much time responding to public records requests as they could justify under the nebulous standard of “reasonableness.”  Focusing on the language of the law, the new manual clarifies that it is the public’s right of inspection that must be reasonable. Thus, public bodies must make records available as quickly as they reasonably can.  The manual suggests that 10 working days should usually be a sufficient amount of time to respond to typical records requests, while recognizing that more time may be required under some circumstances.[I.D 4, Page 11]
  • “The Attorney General can examine state agency fees if it appears that the true purpose of the fees is to effectively deny the request rather than recoup costs as the law allows. The manual previously opined that the Attorney General had no authority to review state agency fees.[I. D 6(b)(1), Page 17]
  • “When deciding whether a fee waiver or fee reduction is appropriate, the public interest in disclosing a document must be considered.  Previously, the manual invited public bodies to consider how much it would burden them to waive or reduce their fees, without requiring them to put the public’s interest in disclosure on the other side of the scales. [I. D6(b)(2)]
  • “The general discussion of exemptions has been revised to more closely follow the way in which public bodies typically consider requests.  The goal is to encourage pro-transparency decisions. [I. E, Page 23]
  • “The section describing the process for appealing a public body’s decision has been completely reorganized.  It is now more accurate and, hopefully, easier to follow.[I. G, Page 106]
  • “In addition to these revisions, there are numerous changes to improve clarity, precision, consistency and accuracy; to avoid redundancy; and to make the manual more current.”
  • To order a copy, fill out this form on the Department of Justice Web site.
  • The free online version of the manual can be found here.


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Electronic Government Portal Advisory Board launches

An advisory board established by the Legislature to help citizens access state government information has held its first meeting Wednesday, Nov. 17. The Oregon Electronic Government Portal Advisory Board was established to advise the Department of Administrative Services on key decisions and strategic choices about how DAS manages and operates the state’s www.oregon.gov portal, the connection point for citizens to access state agency services and information on the Internet. “Web portal services” means providing the hosting, content management, electronic commerce, public collaboration and application development needed to operate and maintain www.oregon.gov and conduct electronic commerce transactions online.

Interested persons may receive meeting notices and agendas by email or conventional mail one week prior to each meeting. To receive a notice, call the office of the Oregon State Chief Information Officer at (503) 378-3175.

Oregon Attorney General issues Government Transparency Report after multi-state study

After six months of town hall meetings around Oregon and receiving written comments, Attorney General John Kroger has issued his Government Transparency Report that summarizes the frustrations many Oregonians have with the state’s public records and meetings laws. The report, which also includes studies of other state laws, concludes that the 2011 Legislature should “address a number of problem areas” that include “excessive fees, lengthy delays and unnecessary exemptions.” In addition, Kroger has placed the 2010 Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual online for free access to Oregonians.

Oregon AG: It’ll cost $80,000 to review e-mails in resignation of special environmental counsel Brent Foster

SALEM — The Oregon attorney general says it will cost $80,000 to review 21,500 e-mails sought by Republican lawmakers over the resignation of Brent Foster, the former special counsel for the environment.

Attorney General John Kroger made the estimate in a letter today to Senate Republican Leader Ted Ferrioli.

Republican lawmakers want to know more about Foster’s role in the state’s opposition to development of liquefied natural gas facilities. One of those projects has gone broke.
Kroger says 64 e-mails that have been reviewed show no evidence of impropriety, but cannot be released because of attorney-client privilege.
Kroger has asked Marion County authorities to investigate Foster’s conduct in the investigation of water pollution charges against a Hood River juice manufacturer.

~ The Associated Press

Newport Mayor shreds documents considered to be public records

By Larry Coonrod
Newport News Times
Posted: Friday, Feb 26th, 2010

Copyright 2010

News Media Corporation After publicly denying the existence of a completed evaluation form for the Newport city attorney and city manager, Mayor Bill Bain admitted this week that he destroyed the document in early January. It’s an admission that could have implications in a pending lawsuit by Dennis Reno, the city’s former airport director who was fired last October.

A reporter asked city councilors for copies of job evaluation forms they had completed for the two city executives at a Dec. 21, 2009 special session, after the council approved a new evaluation process. The News-Times and Depoe Bay Beacon submitted written requests for copies of the evaluations on Jan. 14 and 15.

During a Jan. 19 city council meeting, Bain said he had not received any completed evaluation forms from city councilors in response to a question about the public records requests filed by the News-Times and Depoe Bay Beacon.

“Nobody has turned any forms in to me,” the mayor proclaimed from the council dais.

However, Councilor Mark McConnell said last Friday that he had given Bain the completed evaluation forms a day or two before leaving on an extended vacation on Jan. 12 and had asked the mayor to “shred” them after the evaluation process was suspended.

“For good or for evil, that’s what I did,” Bain said. “I understand now that I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

Bain says he never opened the envelope McConnell gave him and couldn’t guarantee the papers inside were evaluation forms, “although I got to believe they were,” he said, adding that at the time he didn’t consider them public records.

Asked about his Jan. 19 claim of not receiving any completed forms, Bain said, “Constructively, I don’t think I did because I never looked at them.”

“That’s just absolute horse hockey,” said Jack Orchard, an attorney who advises the Oregon Newspaper Publisher’s Association on public record law. “The moment that document was prepared at public expense, it became a public document. Before it even got filled out, it was a public document. The fact that it was filled out in the course and scope of the councilor’s duties as a city councilor only underscored the fact it was a public document.”

Oregon public records law require elected officials receiving a public records request to respond in writing – citing the applicable law – if they choose to deny the request. The person making the request then has the option of appealing the denial to the local district attorney or in circuit court, depending upon the record.

It is a Class A misdemeanor under Oregon law to destroy a public record.

The city council halted the evaluation process of City Manager Jim Voetberg and City Attorney Penelope McCarthy shortly after Reno filed an 18-page tort claim notice on Jan. 7, 2010 alleging he was fired because of his stand “against corrupt political actions, overt waste of taxpayer money and state resources, and fraudulent maneuvers designed to avoid fair, open and legally required transparency…”

Most of Reno’s allegations center around the city’s effort to bring regularly scheduled airline service to Newport. Both McCarthy and Voetberg are named in the tort claim.

Bain said last month that the suspension of Voetberg and McCarthy’s evaluations was related to the tort claim, saying, “I don’t think we want to do anything that prejudices the case of the city.”

The tort claim advised the city of its obligation to preserve any papers or electronic files that could contain information related to the case.

McCarthy said she was not aware the mayor had shredded the evaluation forms until last week and plans to conduct training with the council on public records in the near future.

“I think there’s some confusion about what is and is not a public record. In fact I know there is,” she said.

Bain’s shredding of the evaluation form does not violate the city’s duty to preserve documents relating to the tort claim, the city attorney said. McCarthy said she supported halting the evaluation process because she felt that any criticism of the city manager’s management style by councilors could be used by Reno to support some of the claims in his tort claim.

Voetberg’s contract calls for a performance evaluation by April 1, 2010. To avoid creating evaluation documents that could become public, McCarthy said the council will modify the process to only allow oral evaluations. Evaluation discussions are conducted in executive session, which are not open to the public.

Reno’s attorney, Andrew Altschul, declined to comment on the destruction of the evaluation forms, but said he plans to follow up the tort claim by filing a lawsuit soon.

The Reno tort claim is available for viewing on the News-Time website at www.newportnewstimes.com.

Reporter Larry Coonrod can be reached at 541-265-8571 ext 211 or larry@newportnewstimes.com.

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Open Oregon’s two new publications, a records law guide and a revised meetings guide

Thanks to grants from the National Freedom of Information Coalition, Open Oregon has published a quick reference guide to Oregon’s Public Records law, and has revised a republished the quick reference guide to Oregon’s Public Meetings Law. The funding for these guides came through a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

To get free copies of the guides, please send an e-mail to Judson Randall at jud@europa.com or to Therese Bottomly at tbottomly@oregonian.com While the booklets are free, we may ask for reimbursement for shipping large quantities.