Governor Kate Brown has just signed Senate Bill 9, calling for audits of state agency compliance with Oregon’s Public Records law. Good for her.
Except for a brief period under President Lariviere, UO’s public records office has been notorious for its use of fees, delays, and redactions to frustrate the intent of that law. An audit might turn up some interesting stuff, just as the Oregon DOJ’s 2010 investigation of the UO General Counsel’s office under Melinda Grier did about her and her assistant Doug Park’s delays in providing the Bellotti documents to reporters. (Lariviere fired Grier, and after a series of implausible events her assistant Doug Park, who’d handled the Bellotti requests, became UO’s Interim GC.):
But no. In some spectacularly bad news for trust and transparency at UO, UO’s public records office will be exempt from these audits. I’m no law professor, but here’s the story. The newly passed SB 9 reads:
Senate Bill 9 Sponsored by Senators COURTNEY, FERRIOLI, ROSENBAUM, Representatives KOTEK, HOYLE; Senators DEVLIN, JOHNSON, MONNES ANDERSON (at the request of Governor Kate Brown)
… Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon: SECTION 1. (1) As used in this section: (a) “Performance audit” has the meaning given that term in ORS 297.070. (b) “State agency” has the meaning given that term in ORS 192.410. (2) The Secretary of State shall conduct a performance audit examining state agency retention and disclosure practices concerning public records and requests for public records. …
And while ORS 192.410 says
5) State agency means any state officer, department, board, commission or court created by the Constitution or statutes of this state but does not include the Legislative Assembly or its members, committees, officers or employees insofar as they are exempt under section 9, Article IV of the Oregon Constitution.
SB 270, which created the independent UO Board, makes it pretty clear that UO is no longer a state agency:
SECTION 2a. A university with a governing board is a governmental entity performing governmental functions and exercising governmental powers. A university with a governing board is not considered a unit of local or municipal government or a state agency, board, commission or institution for purposes of state statutes or constitutional provisions.
So what is UO and it’s new independent Board of Trustees?
(3) “Public body” includes every state officer, agency, department, division, bureau, board and commission; every county and city governing body, school district, special district, municipal corporation, and any board, department, commission, council, or agency thereof; and any other public agency of this state.
We’re now like a local school district, it seems. This is why public records petitions about UO’s delays, fees, and redactions no longer go to the Oregon DOJ – they go to the Lane County DA. And so no public records audit for UO. I can think of a few people in Johnson Hall who are going to be very happy with this.