New AG Ellen Rosenblum on public records

From her meeting with the editorial board of the Statesman Journal:

Ellen Rosenblum will seek changes in Oregon’s 40-year-old public records law to make government responses to citizen requests “earlier, cheaper and better.”

This sounds nice. Oregon is rated one of the least transparent states for public records access. But Oregon’s public records law is not the problem. The problem is how the Oregon Attorney General has interpreted the law. There is an inherent conflict of interest between the DOJ’s role as counsel to state agencies and their role enforcing the public records law which requires those same state agencies to release embarrassing – or worse – documents. Time and time again the the DOJ has chosen the interests of their clients over the public’s right to know.

I hope Rosenblum does not try and drop this problem on the legislature, as Kroger did to so little success. She can fix it herself, by writing a few opinions ordering agencies to waive fees and respond quickly.

As Jeff Manning writes today in the Oregonian, on Kroger’s term as AG:

By 2011, there were some indications that Kroger was a spent force.

Early that year, he unveiled a government transparency initiative, a move to update the state’s Open Records laws. The state’s records law had become riddled with more than 400 exemptions and was in need of a reboot, Kroger said in March 2011.

Portland lawyer John DiLorenzo, a power in his own right in Salem, favored the initiative. But he soon realized it was doomed. The cities, counties and even some state agencies balked at the cost of complying and Kroger lacked the political juice to overcome the opposition. His bill didn’t even make it out of committee.

Feds recognize UO Matters as a news media organization.

10/04/2009: On Friday we received a letter from the US Gov’t recognizing UO Matters as “News Media”, in recognition of our efforts to disseminate factual information regarding the University of Oregon and higher education in general. (We have no idea why they fell for this, but they did.) This apparently means quicker turnaround and a substantial discount on our FOIA requests. Damn I love this country.

Public Records how to

In theory it’s easy to get public records from UO. Public records includes every paper or electronic record – including emails – produced with university resources. State law is very clear: these are public property and are to be given to anyone who cares to see them, though agencies can charge actual costs.

Assistant Counsel Doug Park – email him at [email protected] or [email protected] is specifically tasked with implementing this law and with helping provide documents to the public. Just send Doug an email saying “This is a public records request for ….” and describe the document or accounting information. You don’t need to say why you want it. If the public is likely to have an interest in the document – e.g. it documents expenditure of public funds, illegality, or might end up in the newspapers – add “I ask for a fee waiver on the grounds of public interest because …”

In practice, here at UO, President Frohnmayer has given Mr. Park instructions to make it as difficult as possible for you to get these records. OpenUpOregon has some advice on how to get them from him anyway. Remember, be nice to Doug – he is just following orders from Herr Frohnmayer.