Public officials can treat Oregon’s laws requiring government transparency with contempt or outright hostility. That’s why the resignation of Oregon’s first public records advocate, Ginger McCall, and her reasons for it are so disappointing.
McCall resigned after she “received meaningful pressure from the Governor’s General Counsel to represent the Governor’s Office’s interests on the Public Records Advisory Council, even when those interests conflict with the will of the Council and the mandate of the Office of the Public Records Advocate,” she wrote in her resignation. She also was told not to tell anyone she was doing it.
Then Chris Pair, Gov. Kate Brown’s communications director, responded Monday with “the allegations made by Ms. McCall are untrue.” Gov. Kate Brown, to her credit, later contradicted that statement saying “staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the governor and promoting the cause of transparency. Let me be clear, there should be no conflict.”
But there was. Brown can prove she is sincere in her commitment to transparency with action.
A great place to start would be with her support for a bill to require government agencies to be forthcoming about how they handle public records requests. After all, the public can’t know if government is being transparent unless it knows how government is handling requests.
A bill in the 2019 Legislature would have required government bodies to make public things, such as the number of requests received and how and when they are fulfilled — or not. It would only, though, have applied to state agencies. The bill died. For all the talk Oregon officials spout about transparency in government, when it comes time to take action, the support disappears.
If that bill does come back, it should be broadened to apply to cities, counties, school boards and other local government bodies. Surely with Brown behind it and her staff fully committed to transparency, there’s no stopping it.