The Oregon Legislature created the office of Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council in 2017. Now, in the wake of the resignation of the first advocate, Ginger McCall, state Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, hopes to persuade lawmakers to give the council the right to appoint McCall’s successor.
Gov. Kate Brown agrees.
There’s a problem, however.
State Sen. Chuck Riley, D-Hillsboro, who chairs the Senate Business and General Government Committee that would sponsor the bill, has reservations that could tank the effort. That would be unfortunate.
Riley’s opposition is not new. He had problems with House Bill 2353, which his committee handled this year. It gives the attorney general and district attorneys the right to penalize public agencies that fail to respond or take too long to respond to public records requests. Despite that, he did vote for the measure.
Still, Riley believes, according to an article in the Beaverton Valley Times, that calling the person who heads the advisory council the public records “advocate” is wrong. He sees the job as one of moderating between the public and state agencies, not advocating on behalf of records seekers.
The original law does, in fact, talk about the need for the advocate to provide education and training for government agencies so that their employees understand the public records law and make it work. Once that was done, the theory went, the number of disputes would decline and those that remained could be settled with the help of the public records moderator.
But Brown and Hass understand how difficult and expensive agencies can make it for those who seek public records. The power, in other words, lies with agencies. Hass and Brown know that a council-appointed advocate is needed to bring some balance to the equation.