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Jeb Bladine: State hides behind attorney-client wall

Oregonians are not entitled to know which new laws are being proposed by state agencies — not until hand-picked insiders set the legislative agenda; not until attorneys draft the language to enact those secret concepts; and perhaps, more importantly, not until after the November gubernatorial election.

So says Gov. Kate Brown, whose office helped craft a strategy to conceal new state law ideas as long as politically possible. The unsurprising result has been rampant suspicion that Brown, facing a strong challenge from Republican Knute Buehler, fears pre-election public recognition of her legislative agenda.
Buehler’s hometown newspaper, the Bend Bulletin, was blunt in its analysis:

“The records should be made public now … That’s important public business that the public has a right to know. And in the past, they have been provided to members of the public … Gov. Openness should not be trying to delay disclosure. She should be expediting it. Release the records. Now.”

Whatchamacolumn

Jeb Bladine is president and publisher of the News-Register.

> See his column

Brown’s charade is facilitated, perhaps embraced, by her Department of Administrative Services, the Attorney General’s Office and the Legislative Counsel Office. They appear to have closed ranks on a distortion of attorney-client confidentiality.

Here’s how it works:

State agencies submit “legislative concept forms” to the governor, who decides which will be submitted for drafting to the Legislative Counsel Office. Legal drafts are returned to the governor for final approval and disclosure, but only a short time before the legislative session, thus long after the election.

It’s one thing to honor attorney-client confidentiality for legal services needed to protect someone from liability or other consequences. In this case, government agencies simply need language to enact their proposals, making confidentiality misguided.

As The Bulletin asked, rhetorically: “State agencies are forming critical policies to change state law. In many cases, as the state admits, it has publicly discussed its legislative concepts. And now, when an agency proposes an idea to the governor, it suddenly becomes top secret?”

Attorneys at Davis Wright Tremaine in Portland, realizing a confidentiality ruse was in the works, requested the legislative concept forms in early July. That allowed time for initial denial by the Department of Administrative Services, denial on appeal by the attorney general and the filing of a circuit court lawsuit that, by law, receives expedited treatment.

Even if successful, the outcome will not be decided in time for the election. But at least the public has new information about how the current administration has devalued open government.

Jeb Bladine can be reached at jbladine@newsregister.com or 503-687-1223.

Comments

Don Dix

On Gov. Brown's campaign website, she claims significant government transparency to the public -- these are part of that claim:

* Created the Public Records Advocate to settle public records disputes between the public and the government, as well as ordered agencies to standardize practices for releasing information.


* For the first time in Oregon’s history, Kate hired a full time attorney to process public records requests.

It is clear the 'Public Records Advocate' carries no weight at all, or there would be no need for any court action on this request. And the 'full time attorney' is just another hurdle thrown into the path of any records request.

Brown seems to be more interested in keeping voters in the dark, while she uses Oregon's government to protect her base (mostly left-leaning pacs and public employee unions). She is cut from the same mold as the 'do-nothing' governor of the past -- Kulongowski, who told the unions, 'It's us against them (meaning everyday Oregonians)'