The Public Employees Retirement System shouldn’t be fighting to keep the public blind to what it is doing. But it did.
It spent $1,627 on lawyers to defend charging a reporter $112 for some records. And it lost.
Gordon Friedman of the Statesman Journal in Salem requested travel receipts of PERS board members. That’s the kind of thing that the public should have access to for free. The public has the right to know if state agencies are paying for trips or meals that they should not. It’s been a problem before in Oregon. It will likely be a problem again.
PERS told Friedman that he must pay to see the records. Friedman asked the Department of Justice to order PERS to release the documents for free, arguing that it was in the public interest.
The DOJ sided with Friedman and ordered the release.
That was a good decision from the DOJ because public agencies have been denying fee waiver requests left and right. A member of the public should not be required to have a bunch of money to find out what its government is doing.
Of course, the $1,627 spent by PERS is not a lot of money in the state’s multibillion-dollar budget. But the action from PERS only reinforces the notion that state agencies don’t want to be transparent. They will spend money to fight the public’s right to know. Too many of them will only release records when forced, especially if it might make an agency look bad.
Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum plans to introduce legislation requiring deadlines for agencies to respond to records requests. Gov. Kate Brown has vowed to increase the state’s transparency. They both have much more work to do to undo a culture of resistance to open government.