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March 25th, 2009 JAMES PITKIN | Rogue of the Week
 

Shameful Records

Meet the Rogues who want less sunshine in Oregon’s public records.

     
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You might say Oregon lawmakers are addicted to secrecy.

The state Legislature passed one of the nation’s most progressive public records laws in 1973. Since then, our elected officials have never ceased writing new loopholes to let public officials who spend our tax dollars keep more of their work out of public view.

Like Rush Limbaugh on an Oxy bender, they keep reaching for the same pill bottle—adding more than 300 exemptions to the law in the past 35 years.

“It’s a death of a thousand cuts,” says state Sen. Mark Hass (D-Raleigh Hills), a former TV reporter. “We have a shell of the public records law we had in the 1970s.”

With Oregon’s economy in shambles, you’d think the Leg could lay off its habit for just one session and focus more on financial recovery.

No such luck. Lawmakers in Salem are pushing more than a dozen new exemptions. We’ve picked out three of the most alarming and who’s behind them. For their efforts, these three lawmakers share this week’s Rogue dishonors.

State Rep. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer), HB 2727

“(Making them public) would compromise personal security.”

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Keep secret the names of people allowed by county sheriffs to carry concealed handguns.

WHY: Concealed-handgun licenses have always been controversial as public records­—some sheriffs refuse to give them up. Now the Oregon State Sheriffs’ Association wants to close the door for good after the Medford Mail Tribune won a lawsuit seeking Jackson County’s list in 2007 (that case is on appeal). Multnomah County Sheriff Bob Skipper, abetted by county attorney Agnes Sowle’s office, denied WW’s request for Multnomah County’s list last year, saying he doesn’t see the public interest (“Gunning for Secrecy,” WW, Dec. 24, 2008). We do: In an ideal world, we’ll trust every sheriff to administer this program perfectly at all times. Until then, the public needs some way to know who’s packing heat and why sheriffs are letting them.

STATE Sen. Vicki Walker (D-Eugene), HB 2315.

“I don’t hesitate a heartbeat over this one.”

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Hide investigative records of the state agency that certifies cops until each investigation is complete.

WHY: Walker, a strong defender of open government, says she wrote the bill on behalf of the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training, which put the bill in the House. Walker says she was “furious” when records of the department’s probe of Multnomah County Sheriff Bernie Giusto were released to the press in 2007 before the investigation ended. Those records revealed Walker had reported to the FBI she felt threatened by Giusto in 2004. She says the public safety standards department should be able to shield records, like any other Oregon agency, until the investigation concludes. We disagree. The department’s openness in the Giusto case was refreshing in Oregon, and DPSST has long performed its job in the sunshine.

State Rep. David Edwards (D-Hillsboro), HB 3094

“It’s necessary to protect the health and welfare of the employees.”

WHAT IT WOULD DO: Conceal the names and home and work addresses of scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center.

WHY: Researchers at Oregon Health Science University’s primate research center in Beaverton are engaged in controversial work, performing medical experiments on rhesus monkeys. Animal rights groups have alleged inhumane treatment, and this month, the feds issued the center a warning for violating the Animal Welfare Act. Some protests are inexcusable—in 2007, vandals spray-painted two doctors’ homes and cars. This bill renews a similar 2005 law. But we think the identities of those public employees, like their work, should stay open to the public. Keeping researcher names secret prevents reasonable activists from researching their work, past and present.

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