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Public Access to Government

When I decided to run for Secretary of State, I vowed to run a policy-driven campaign as opposed to today’s modern fundraise-at-all costs, poll-driven assaults on voters.

That’s exactly why the first policy change I would make is close to my heart: public access to government. The newly created Public Records Advocate should be restructured to better serve Oregonians. Here’s what that means.

Public Records Advocate:

Transparency is the hallmark of a strong democracy. To that end, Oregon’s Public Records Law declares that “every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state.” (ORS 192.314). We need to make sure the Public Records Advocate has the tools to protect this important right.

Background:

The Office of the Public Records Advocate, created in 2017, provides facilitated dispute resolution services at the request of government bodies or public records requesters; training on public records laws; and leads the Public Records Advisory Council. The Council works with the Advocate and the State Archives Division to study as well as practices, procedures, exemptions, and fees related to public records. The Advocate is appointed by the Governor and can only be removed for cause. The Council’s 12-member voting body is dominated by government representatives. This is a mistake. The Public Records Advisory Council should be restructured to represent more Oregonians committed to transparency.

The current structure of the Council undermines transparency reform.

The Hass proposal:

In order to better promote access, transparency advocates should have a greater voice on the council. The number of local government representatives will be reduced and replaced with an additional member of the public, an additional member of the media, and two members of a nonprofit that uses public records laws to further their work will be added. A state representative and a state senator should be appointed as non-voting members of the council.

Most importantly, the Public Records Advocate should be chosen by the council – not appointed by an elected official. The Public Records Advocate should have independent authority to introduce legislation.

While the Public Records Advocate’s office will be provided by the Secretary Of State’s Archives Division, it will act independently of any state official.

This change will make the Public Record Advocate more independent and less vulnerable to outside political pressures. When Oregonians have more access to their government, government will work better.

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