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.