Editorial: Law keeps public in the loop

Oregon law allows the directors of public bodies like the Crook County Board of Commissioners to meet in private under certain conditions. Such things as lawsuits and real estate transactions can occur behind closed doors.

Even then, however, state law sets limits on secrecy. No final decision can be made in an executive session, for one thing. And, before each such meeting, someone must announce publicly the general subject matter.

It was that requirement for prior public notice that tripped up the Crook County Commission early last year and resulted in an ethics complaint against it. Though the Oregon Government Ethics Commission agreed that the law was violated, it levied no fines — perhaps its way of saying the violation was relatively inconsequential.

The two members of the county commission present had, after all, voted in public to settle the “Siegert matter,” a zoning dispute, when they left executive session.

Still, the requirement for prior notice is an important one, no matter how tired officials become of a rote recitation at the beginning of each executive session. Judge Mike McCabe recently called the recitation “the stupidest thing on the planet.”

No it’s not. It’s one of the smart things about Oregon’s law.

Members of the public may not legally attend executive sessions. If the announcement of purpose is not made ahead of the meeting, the public has no way of knowing what is going on. It also serves as a formalized reminder to the governing body that it may only do limited things in an executive session.