Good Luck With Your Public Records Request
Oregon’s continuing public-records runaround benefits unions
…. The Oregonian / OregonLive — Opinion — January 19, 2016 ….
by Anne Marie Gurney…
In recent months, Oregon’s haphazard, often corrupt handling of public records requests has earned well-deserved criticism from the state’s most prominent media outlets. And the Freedom Foundation has been right at the heart of the controversy.
A public records request I made in December 2014 asking for mailing addresses of home health care workers resulted in backroom meetings that reached Gov. Kate Brown’s office. The final result was passage of two laws — one specifically intended to thwart the Freedom Foundation’s request by exempting the information I was seeking, and another that would presumably “fix” the problem. The second law, House Bill 3557, is considered a compromise “fix” because, although the addresses are exempt from disclosure, the records will be made available if the requestor can show they intend to use the information in the public’s best interest.
The question is, who gets to decide?
We resubmitted our request under the revised statute, specifying that we intended to use the information to educate home health care workers about their new constitutional rights to decline paying union dues or fees as a condition of employment, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its 2014 Harris v. Quinn decision. What could better serve the public interest, after all, than notifying people of their legal rights?
Our second request was answered by Gene Evans at the Oregon Department of Human Services, the same public relations officer who stifled my previous request. You may have already guessed his answer, but here it is in its entirety: “Pursuant to HB 3557, we mailed a copy of your public records request to (home care worker) on Dec. 14, 2015. We considered all information submitted under HB 3557, consulted with our attorneys at the Oregon Department of Justice, and we have determined that you have not demonstrated by clear and convincing evidence that the public interest requires disclosure. DHS therefore denies your request.”
Silly me. The public’s ability to know and understand their constitutional rights seems like a clear and convincing reason to me. Whose best interest is served by refusing my request? The public sector unions who don’t want their “members” advised of their rights, that’s who.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with acting in the public interest. The problem comes when the person making that decision is the one with the most to lose by transparency. When that happens, public interest runs a distant second to the concerns of special interests.