Ginger McCall, Oregon’s public records advocate, recently asked a variety of state and local government agencies to share information regarding the public records requests they received in 2018. While she got a reasonably good response — more than 70% of agencies asked for information actually sent that information to McCall’s office — it’s clear there’s work to be done.
Thus the city of Bend and Bend-La Pine Schools provided the information sought. Agencies that did not respond included the Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, the Oregon Water Resources Department and the Disabilities Commission.
It may well be that not all agencies received McCall’s request for information. That’s why Multnomah County officials say they did not respond, and it’s possible there were similar problems elsewhere.
Yet knowing how government is doing in making information easily available to those who ask for it is critical. The Oregon Public Records Advisory Council, which McCall heads, is charged with making recommendations on ways to improve public records law in the state, and without hard facts about what’s happening, that’s a difficult task, at best.
Current law acknowledges that by requiring a periodic survey and report, to be sure. But gathering information from all agencies subject to the law, large or small, is better. That’s what Senate Bill 2431, which died in the 2019 legislative session, would have done, and it’s also why McCall, the council and others should continue to push lawmakers to pass legislation in 2020.
The law that established the office of Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council makes it clear; “All public bodies shall assist the council in the performance of its duties …”
Oregon used to be a leader in the effort to open government to its citizens, and arming McCall and the council with facts is a necessary step to achieving leadership again.