Deschutes County commissioners are considering as much as doubling the money they give to Economic Development for Central Oregon, known as EDCO. The county invested $112,200 in EDCO last year.
It may be a smart move for some reasons. But doubling the money to EDCO could also mean doubling the amount of information kept from the public.
The county outsources a lot of its economic development work to EDCO, which is a private nonprofit. EDCO says that private status means that “we are not bound by public meetings and records laws that can be a barrier between the private and public sectors.”
That may be an advantage for EDCO. We’d like to see proof. It is certainly a disadvantage for the public.
Essentially, EDCO has become the economic development program for the county and many other government entities in the area. So why isn’t a government program with public money run with transparency?
Three years ago, The Bulletin asked for applications made to a forgivable loan program set up by the county. The county declined to turn them over, because it did not have them. EDCO was running the program. The Bulletin asked EDCO for the documents. EDCO declined, because it is a private organization.
We complained. The county listened, and EDCO turned over the documents.
That tale had a happy ending, but that isn’t the only example.
The intent of Oregon’s public records and open meetings laws are that the public’s business is open to the public. Any exceptions are narrow. Even when public bodies can operate in secret they are not required to do so by the law. And the laws do make allowances for trade secrets.
EDCO’s default answer has been no to openness. So investing in EDCO is also government investing in secrecy, unless the county commissioners and other government entities make openness part of their agreements with EDCO.