State Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, a candidate for Secretary of State, said recently that he will make improving access to public records his first policy priority if he’s elected in 2020. That may not be surprising — Hass is, after all, a former television news broadcaster — but surprising or not, his is a good idea.
Hass’ first target would be the relatively new Public Records Advisory Council, which, he says, is overburdened with representatives from government. He’s got a point. Of the 12 members on the council, fully eight either work for government or are members of the Oregon Legislature.
Hass would cut the number of government representatives in half, increase the current three slots for journalists by one, add two members from nonprofits that use public records and add a second member of the public.
The change would mean that journalists and the public agencies from which they seek records would be represented equally on the board, surely a more balanced mix than the current one that gives public agency members an absolute majority on the council. It also would mean that either of those groups would have to persuade three of the four remaining members when journalists and government representatives were evenly split on an issue. That, too, is a good idea. It would force both press and government representatives to think more about the people of Oregon and what serves them best.
Hass also agrees with Ginger McCall, the state’s first Public Records Advocate who left Oct. 11, that the advocate should be appointed by the council rather than by an elected official. That, too, is a good idea. It was McCall’s disagreement with Gov. Kate Brown’s staff over the advocate’s independence that led her to resign. Without independence, the advocate runs the risk of being seen as a partisan member of the governor’s camp, no matter who is governor at the time.
The Public Records Advisory Council and its leader, the Public Records Advocate, have important work to do in Oregon. Hass’ changes would lend credibility to that work.