By editorial board • 

Time for refresher course on transparency in public service

Accusation from Yamhill County Commission Chair Lindsay Berschauer to Parks & Recreation Advisory Board Chair Jim Culbert, complaining about News-Register presence at a March 15 meeting at which applicants for appointment were evaluated:

“When you invite the News-Register to your meetings before the Board of Commissioners even makes a decision, it was a planned effort. The drama needs to stop.”

Response from Culbert:

“In fact, the Parks Board did NOT invite the News-Register to (its) meeting … If you could make a public retraction of your false accusation, that would be helpful and greatly appreciated.”

He went on to say the board was so concerned when it learned the News-Register planned to cover the evaluation session that it had Parks Director Travis Pease and Public Works Director Mark Lago ask County Administrator Ken Huffer and County Counsel Christian Boenisch if there was a way the board could circumvent media presence. Huffer and Boenisch indicated, of course, that there was not.

Culbert told Berschauer he was moved to set the record straight “when you made unspecified mention of shameful actions by unspecified individuals, then proceeded to state that the Parks Board was also shameful in inviting the News-Register to attend.”

We are flabbergasted on two counts here:

* That a public official could possibly accuse a public body of conspiring to facilitate public coverage of public deliberations held on a public matter in a public meeting.

* That a public body could possibly so fear public coverage of its public deliberations that it would seek an out through public officials on up the ranks.

What part of “public” are our public representatives failing to comprehend here? A few definitions from Oregon’s public records and meetings law might help foster greater clarity.

Public body: Any state, regional or local governmental board, department, commission, council, bureau, committee, subcommittee or advisory group created by the state constitution, statue, administrative rule, order, intergovernmental agreement, bylaw or other official act.

Public action: Any determination, action, vote, recommendation or disposition upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, ordinance or measure at a meeting at which a quorum is present, even if conducted by conference call, video conference, serial e-mail or other means.

Public record: Any writing containing information related to the conduct of public business, including handwriting, typewriting, printing, photographing and every other means of recording, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, symbols or combinations thereof, and all papers, maps, files facsimiles or electronic recordings.

Legal beneficiary: Any natural person, corporation, partnership, firm or association, without regard to motive, intent, age, residency or citizenship.

Public records and meeting laws like Oregon’s, often referred to as sunshine laws, swept the country in the early 1970s in response to the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. Oregon’s were enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in 1973.

Because the news media took the lead in exposing the Watergate coverup, and the vast majority of Americans seem content to let the media serve as their public information eyes and ears, these laws are often viewed as tools virtually exclusive to the media. Actually, though, it’s almost entirely the opposite.

With one very limited exception — the right to sit in on otherwise closed executive sessions, limited to media representatives — these laws established rights open to every living person interested in exercising them. The aim was to ensure government of the people, by the people and for the people could be practiced in fact as well as theory.

The freedom of information coalition Open Oregon makes the case this way:

“Open government laws benefit both government and the public. Citizens gain by having access to the process of deliberation, enabling them to view their government at work and to influence its deliberations. Government officials gain credibility by permitting citizens to observe their information-gathering and decision-making process.

“Such understanding leads to greater trust in government by its citizens. Conversely, officials who attempt to keep their deliberations hidden from public scrutiny create cynicism, erode public trust and discourage involvement.”

We expect public officials to welcome, even encourage, public attendance and participation when they meet to discuss public business. We think they should be prepared to engage in frank, open and purposeful discussion, regardless of how big the stage or bright the limelight.

When they accepted election or appointment to their posts, they agreed to don a mantle of transparency and accountability. It comes with the job.



Contrary to the News-Register's editorial board opinion here, the Yamhill County Parks Board does not need a refresher course on transparency in public service. We support public transparency in our deliberations and have no issue in having N-R representatives attend and participate in any of our public meetings. Where we differ was the specific situation of having a N-R representative sit in on, and potentially report on, our planned discussion on the merits of Parks Board applicants. No Parks Board member wanted to be quoted by the N-R about anything specifically negative that they might want to mention in that discussion. Surely this is the kind of thing that would get reported. Thus, on March 15th, since we did not have the ability to go into Executive Session so that Parks Board members could have a frank discussion, we consciously limited our discussion, and only made recommendations on those applications for whom we had general agreement. It is exactly this kind of misconstruction published by the N-R on what actually occurred, and what we were trying to do, that discourages us from wanting to communicate with the N-R. So, back to you, N-R editorial are flabbergasted, but it is self-inflicted because of our lack of trust in your own ability to report things accurately. You have demonstrated that again here.
Jim Culbert
The preceding comments are made from my unique position in the events described, and do not necessarily represent the views of any other specific Parks Board member, nor the Parks Board as a whole.


I can't tell if he wants any help, or coverage/sunlight on this issue, or if he's even concerned one bit about what these commissioners are trying to do to the parks board?

Oh well. Thanks for trying to do the right thing, N-R. I think he just wants you to leave the PB be and just let it happen.

We did this to not voting.

M. Isaac

Culbert, one of the constitutional amendments was:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Do not blame the NR for doing their job - a job they are allowed by the constitution to do. If you don't agree with the reporting then comment or write a letter to the editor (which you have done). The readers are smart folks - let them decide. Trying to exclude the press does not make me trust the Parks Board or the process more, but less.

Lastly, thank you for volunteering to be on the Parks Board and working to make this a better community.


If anything, Yamhill County Commission Chair Lindsay Berschauer needs the refresher course!


They seem to forget that the board is a public board and if they are afraid to meet and have someone report to the public just emphasizes that they are trying to hide things.

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