Gov. Kate Brown and Oregon legislators are meeting behind your back. They are more interested in expediency than the public’s right to know.
Brown has held more than 50 daily meetings by phone for all the legislators. They have been holding the meetings without allowing the public to listen. We only know about the meetings thanks to the reporting of The Oregonian.
The meetings have featured updates on the latest news about the pandemic. Shouldn’t the public be able to hear that discussion among its elected leaders?
There have been weekly updates from the head of Oregon’s Department of Human Services. He apparently spoke about what a cut of 17% in funding would mean for the department. Oregonians have heard far too many heart-wrenching stories of how the state has failed some of the state’s most vulnerable children : those in the foster care system. Fariborz Pakseresht, the department’s director, said he had to freeze hiring for the child welfare program. Why not let the public listen in?
The struggling state Employment Department has also given presentations. It has some 38,000 unprocessed claims. And there’s another staggering figure: 200,000 claims have not been paid during the pandemic. Shouldn’t Oregonians be able to hear what the department is saying to legislators and what legislators are asking? Apparently Gov. Brown and legislators don’t think so.
And this is where things get really interesting. The intent of Oregon’s open meetings law is that the public is allowed to know what the government is doing. And it’s not only that the decisions are made in public. Deliberations are important, too. That enables the public to know the choices that must be made and the information on which those choices are based.
“Officials in the governor’s office and the Legislature’s top lawyer argue” that these meetings that the governor is having with legislators don’t trigger the state’s open meetings law, The Oregonian wrote. They are getting information, the argument goes, not making decisions.
The information legislators get in these meetings helps them make decisions. Legislators will meet in a special session to make choices about how state budgets will be cut. Gov. Brown and legislators say they believe in transparent and accountable government. But that’s not what they do.