Request public records in Oregon and you can get:
• Sued by the agency you requested the records from.
• Slapped with thousands of dollars in charges to get access to what is supposed to be public.
• Nothing. Government bodies can simply ignore your request or otherwise act in bad faith without fear of the state enforcing the law.
Oregon’s public records law needs to change.
Ginger McCall, the state’s public records advocate, has done an excellent job of highlighting these problems in a new report to Gov. Kate Brown and the Legislature.
Text messages continue to be a problem. When public officials text each other about government business, those records are public. But many governments make no effort to preserve those records. They rely on the government officials to keep them.
Now just imagine there’s some turmoil in a government and a member of the public requests the text messages related to that turmoil. Do you think the government officials would dutifully turn over all their texts?
When we requested text messages sent by Bend city councilors and City Manager Eric King about Councilor Nathan Boddie during the turmoil of his campaign for state Legislature, the city chose not to comply fully with the request, and Boddie didn’t respond. The city only asked councilors and King to provide the messages sent among themselves. Boddie didn’t provide any texts. We know he sent some texts, because other councilors provided some text interchanges with Boddie.
The Bulletin could have tried to take the city and Boddie to court, but why should the public be forced to pay for a lawyer to enforce state law? Shouldn’t state government care?
If the past legislative sessions are any guide, the 2019 session will be another where Gov. Brown and legislators are happy to ignore the problems with the public’s right to know what their government is doing.