Governor undermines her own transparency

Open, accessible and accountable government with freedom to public information without interference from governing bodies — or elected officials — is essential to our democratic republic.

But that fundamental value may be at stake in Oregon, where Ginger McCall, the state’s first public records advocate, resigned under duress last week after just 18 months working with the Oregon Public Records Advisory Council. She cited pressure and interference from Gov. Kate Brown’s senior staff.

What is happening in Oregon is alarming. Only a handful of states have offices of “open government,” intended to act as mediators of public record disputes. These government agencies are diverse in the services they provide and the powers they possess.

Many are established to operate as independent bodies, unobstructed by the executive branch and legislature. Such a wall was established in Oregon under the enabling legislation, but we’re now seeing it may not actually be honored in practice.

The Oregon legislation creating McCall’s new office was largely modeled after Connecticut legislation creating the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission.

In Connecticut, that commission is housed in the executive branch, but not in the office of the governor. Its director reports to the commission’s board of directors, in order to avoid conflict, interference and loss of independence.

But Oregon deviated from the Connecticut model in the placement of its open government office. It was established in the office of the governor, subjecting it to oversight from her and her staff.

That created an environment potentially fostering political, personal and legal conflict, thus diminishing its ability to ensure transparency and accountability.

The National Freedom of Information Coalition, a national network of state open government groups, believes public records offices and facilitators are critically important for ensuring accountable and responsive practices in state and local governments. But their effectiveness as transparency advocates relies on their ability to remain independent, thus insulated from interference from the public agencies and the public officials they work alongside.

In light of these developments, will leaders in Oregon make the office of the public records advocate truly independent, enabling unfettered mediation of public records disputes? Or will they choose secrecy and politicization?

That’s yet to be seen. But we’re watching.

Daniel Bevarly is executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization representing 35 states and the District of Columbia. It is devoted to openness, transparency, accountability and freedome of information in state and local government.


Don Dix

Brown isn't about to let any info released unless she and her staff have redacted or eliminated anything of which the public might not approve. And yet 'transparency' was a major platform promise leading up to her election.

So, the question arises -- 'how long will Oregonians stand for a government that only answers to those who fund campaigns, and deliberately hide executive actions and decisions from the questioning electorate?'

Power corrupts -- absolute power corrupts absolutely! (example above)


and getting her minions at the very last minute to go house to house doing ballot harvesting and threatening all the poor folks and elderly “if you don’t vote Democrat you’ll lose your benefits.”

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