Editorial: Don't hide the public's business

Published Jul 7, 2013 at 05:00AM

Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow should lose. It’s important that he lose.

If he wins his fight with The Oregonian over emails from his personal accounts, he’s going to create an easy way for public officials to hide what they do.

Ludlow is refusing to release emails from his private accounts. He claims they are exempt from public disclosure.

Oregon law is clear.

It’s been clear for years.

If it’s work, it’s a public record, as State Archivist Mary Beth Herkert told The Oregonian.

The Oregon Public Records and Meetings Manual also says “a public body must make all nonexempt email available for inspection and copying regardless of its storage location.”

Of course, that language implies that there are exemptions, and there are. But the exemptions are narrow.

For instance, if a public official is corresponding with the state ethics commission over a possible violation by the official, it is not a public record in the hands of the public official. But that same email may be a public record in the hands of the commission.

In Ludlow’s case, the original request for emails arose over a dispute over the Columbia River Crossing. That request has since been withdrawn, but The Oregonian has now made a similar request.

Ludlow recently told The Oregonian email sent or received from his private account should not be considered a public record.

“Even if those do exist, people are entitled to their opinion and why should their opinions be broadcast out there on the airwaves,” he said.

It’s not that simple.

The dreadful thing about Ludlow’s suggestion is that public officials would be able to conceal public business, because it’s on a personal email account. That cannot be permitted.