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Thursday, March 29, 2012

HIDING BEHIND AND MANIPULATING PUBLIC RECORDS LAWS

I'm learning everything there is to know about Oregon Public records law since it appears public bodies (such as Trimet)use the Oregon Public Records Law to hide and complicate the procedure for find out what's really going on behind the scenes of such organizations.
A GUIDE TO REQUESTING PUBLIC RECORDS

Can a government agency charge citizens for copies of public records?

Public agencies may charge a fee to recover the cost of fulfilling a records request. An agency cannot charge more than $25 without first providing an estimate. A public agency may require that you pay the estimated cost up front. You also have the right to ask for the fee to be waived or reduced because it is in the public's interest to release the records. You can appeal a public agency's refusal to waive the fee. The appeals process is explained below.

Are all public records subject to disclosure?
Most public records are subject to disclosure, but there are exemptions. Records related to an active criminal investigation are generally exempt from disclosure until the case is resolved. Confidential communications between government officials and government lawyers are generally exempt from disclosure. If a public body claims an exemption, it generally must show that the need for confidentiality outweighs the public interest in disclosure under the particular circumstances. When making a public records request, it can be helpful to describe the public interest in releasing the records. If a public agency rejects your request and you appeal, the public body will be required to show that its denial was consistent with the law. For a list of exemptions and a discussion of their application, you may consult the Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual.

What can I do if a government agency denies my request for public records?
A public records denial by a state agency, board or commission may be appealed free of charge to the Oregon Attorney General (see Appeal a State Agency's Denial of Your Request for Records). It is helpful to forward the agency's written explanation for denying your request. A denial by a local government such as a county, city, school district or special district must be appealed to the county district attorney. If the Attorney General or District Attorney denies your appeal, you may file a lawsuit challenging the ruling in Circuit Court.

Can members of the public be excluded from a public meeting?
A meeting can be closed to the public if a governing body goes into Executive Session. The law governing Executive Session is designed to allow a public body to have confidential discussions, but does not allow any decisions to be made in secret. All decisions by a governing body must be made in public. Reasons for Executive Session include discussions about labor negotiations or the hiring or disciplining of a public employee. Journalists may attend most Executive Sessions, but cannot report or broadcast what was said. A list of exempt meetings and reasons for executive sessions are in the online Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual.






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