Curry County blocks public access to records

News Release from Americans for Prosperity

Imagine your boss comes to you and says she wants you to go through your email folders and give her a copy of every email that pertains to some project your company has been working on. You estimate it in your head, and figure it’s going to take you 10 hours to find what she wants. So you send her a memo saying you can do what she wants, but she’s going to have to pay you extra – your hourly salary rate times 10 hours – if she wants you to do the work. What do you think her response would be?

This scenario could never play out in the private sector, of course. People who work in the private sector understand that they are paid their salary to undertake whatever work their boss wants to be done. If they don’t want to do that work at what we’re paying you…well, there’s the door.

This concept is, apparently, completely lost on many government employees. Commissioners in Curry County recently passed regulations mandating expensive fees for any public records request. The fees amount to the equivalent of the hourly rate of all employees involved in processing the request and providing the information, including the County Attorney. Understand that what the Curry County Commissioners are asking for is for County employees to be paid double-time – responding to requests for information from our boss is not a normal part of our job. We demand to be paid double-time for any work we do that our boss asks of us – even though it’s a normal part of our job.

Curry County employees are already being paid to do the public’s work. It is the public that decides what that work should be. It is completely outrageous for a government employee to demand extra money to do work his or her boss (the public) outlines.

Further, Oregonians have access under law to public documents. The law provides only that government entities may charge “reasonable” fees to provide information – it does not require even those fees. The intent of the word “reasonable” here is to allow charges for things like photocopying fees – not to give government a license to charge taxpayers again for salaries and benefits they are already struggling to pay. That is most certainly not “reasonable.”

Some taxpayers in Curry County wonder why its County Commission has moved so aggressively to limit transparency and shut information off from people. On the surface, it appears that a single person’s request for information – which under the new rules may have cost him almost $8,000 – may have set off the Commission. It’s possible that County employees are simply lazy, and don’t want to do what the boss says. The other possibility is that there’s something in those documents, something the County Commission does not want the public to see. Oregon governments have a long history of embezzlement, corruption, using taxpayer money to illegally engage in politics and a host of other sins. It’s probably time for an investigation of whether Curry County Commissioners have something to hide.

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Posted by at 05:55 | Posted in Measure 37 | 6 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jack Roberts

    Actually, the money doesn’t go to the public employees; they aren’t being paid twice. The money goes to the county to reimburse the employee costs of responding to a single person’s (or small group of people’s) request for information which the public employees must take time away from their regular jobs to copy.

    In a sense, it’s no different than charging fees for permits; you aren’t simply paying for the piece of paper the permit is printed on, you’re paying for public employee’s time in processing the permit, including any verification, document review, etc., depending on the kind of permit being issued.

    Many conservatives have been in the forefront in asking that government services move from a “tax-based” to a “fee-based” funding system so that all taxpayers don’t pay for things that primarily benefit specific individuals. Paying for copies of public records is one example.

    Personally, I think having more public records available on-line helps eliminate this and makes for more open and more cost-effective government. But where that is not the case, I’m one taxpayer who really doesn’t want to subsidize fishing expeditions by political gadflies of the left or the right.

    • John Fairplay

      I think you missed the point of this piece pretty badly there, Jack. The county is already receiving tax dollars to respond to these requests – even if when come from “gadflies.” They don’t need to be “reimbursed” again.

    • Jo

      I used to work for the government (retired now), regardless its your job to get these reports! not to try blackmail to get more money. Oregon has truly fallen a long long way when you see the corruption and dishonor shown nowdays!

  • Rupert in Springfield

    I can see not wanting to finance fishing expeditions, but come on, if you are in charge of public records, other than maintaining records, and making those that are public available, what else exactly are you being paid for? Public records are not maintained simply for the amusement of government officials.

    The solution is real simple, make the public records available either online, or via a terminal at the records office. Searching those records is the individuals responsibility. Have a fee for printing them out to pay for copier toner. I think the going rate on copier toner/maintenance is around eight cents a page.

    If they don’t have the funds to make these records available in such a fashion then I would suggest they do what I do. Check behind doors, old shoe boxes etc. I am sure there are piles of money to do this. How do I know? Well I am required to keep records for my business. I don’t get to charge the government a fee whenever they want to look at them. I have to pay accountants quite a bit of money to keep them in order. The government seems to think I have money just hanging around to do this for them, let them take the same approach.

    Its just “the cost of doing business”. How glib. Let it be said unto those who would compel others to follow such words.

    So let it be written

    So shall it be – Pharaoh

  • Sybella

    ‘People who work in the private sector understand that they are paid their salary to undertake whatever work their boss wants to be done.’

    They do? that’s a laugh

  • Bo

    Government is big, which means the publci will always need more requests to monitor as government grows. To reduce access when it is needed the most does not make sense.

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