For every step forward in Oregon’s public records law, there’s another example of government refusing to hand over potentially embarrassing information.
A parent asked Portland Public Schools to turn over info about employees getting paid to stay home for alleged misconduct. The district sued the parent and a freelance reporter who requested the same information.
The local district attorney ordered the district to release the information. The district sued instead, saying it was protecting an employee’s right to due process. The district’s suit didn’t seek money. It sought the ability to block the release.
It might be too simplistic to accuse the district, which was advocating for employees, of obstructionism. But Oregonians should be able to ask for public information without fearing that they are going have to pay to take on the government in court.
A similar incident occurred after a Nampa, Idaho, man released from the state psychiatric hospital was accused of killing two people in Malheur County. The Malheur Enterprise newspaper requested information from the state’s Psychiatric Review Board.
Oregon’s attorney general ordered that the information be released. The board sued the newspaper instead. Gov. Kate Brown intervened and ordered the information be released.
“Oregonians deserve a government that is transparent to the fullest extent permitted by law,” she said. “No one requesting public records should be at risk of being sued by a state agency.”
It shouldn’t take the governor intervening in public records requests for state and local government agencies to do the right thing. Those incidents do reveal a problem with Oregon’s public records law. A state or local agency does not have any choice under the law but to sue the requester if it honestly believes there is a flaw with Oregon’s public records law in a particular request.
State lawmakers need to come up with a fix.