HB 5048 An Affront to Oregon Public Records Laws

From Senator George’s Press Release 5-2-07:

SALEM — State Sen. Gary George (R-Newberg) is decrying the lack of compliance by some state agencies with Oregon’s Public Records laws. The latest affront comes in an “agency bill” introduced to the legislature directly by the Oregon Dept. of Transportation.

Under Oregon’s Revised Statutes Chapter 192, government officials at any level of government in Oregon are required to allow public access to most records, as well as for citizens to obtain copies at reasonable rates.

ODOT’s Deputy Director Michael Marsh’s claim at a May 1 hearing before the Subcommittee on Transportation of Ways and Means that its House Bill 5048 contains routine charges are an “affront to the public’s right to know what’s going on in their government.”

Senator George and his staff have been digging into the practices of the state transportation agency. “ODOT Director Matt Garrett and his staff have often been less than forthcoming–even obstinate in their approach, including flat out refusing to turn over some requested public documents. To this date, a number of requests have gone unfulfilled to this Senate office.

House Bill 5048, introduced as an “agency bill” by the Dept. of Transportation reads in pertinent part:

Relating to financial administration of the Department of Transportation; and declaring an emergency.
SECTION 1. For the purpose of carrying out the provisions of ORS 291.055 (1)(e), the following new or increased fees to cover the costs of providing records, adopted by the Department of Transportation and approved by the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, are approved:

(1) Photocopies………………………………………………………………. $0.25 per page
(2) Labor……………………………………………………………………… $25.00 per hour
(3) Transmittal by electronic mail…………………………………….. $5.00 per electronic mail
(4) 3.5-inch computer disk or compact disk……………………….. $5.00 per disk
(5) Facsimile………………………………………………………………….. $5.00 first page; $1.00 each additional page
(6) Attorney fees……………………………………………………………. $25.00 minimum

“If anything, fees should be decreased, not increased,” explains Senator George. “In addition, every effort should be made to maximize the use of the internet for making public records available–without the need for an agency’s time or its use as a ‘clearing center.’ We also need a complete outside review of fee structures of all state agencies from Open Oregon, a credible coalition specifically established to maintain the free flow of information.”

The abuse of ORS 192 through arbitrary exorbitant fees is already been done. “This same twisted methodology has been used by a City in my Senate District to close off citizens from obtaining public records through feeing. One ten page document request from the City of Sheridan was claimed to create four hours of staff time at $25 per hour, plus a 10 cents a page charge. The total for the request: $101.”

Since then, Sheridan City Manager Frank Sheridan–who unilaterally instituted this Sheridan fee structure–has increased staff time for public records requests to the sum of $35 per hour.

“HB 5048 would have a chilling effect on legislative offices attempting to get information in evaluating the Executive branch spending. But most important, the citizens, press, and legislators alike need quick and inexpensive access to public records to maintain freedom in our state,” the Senator added.

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  • Steve Plunk

    A pat on the back to Sen. George.

    Bureaucrats do their best to subvert any law or rule they find inconvenient. The most inconvenient are those that throw sunlight into the secret world in which they choose to conduct business. Feeling they know better than the public they serve many of these “public servants” want nothing less than prying eyes looking into what they do.

    ODOT is notorious for this kind of institutional mindset. ODOT is full of engineers who use technical jargon and secrecy to keep the public out of it’s business which is becoming more of an extension of big money contractors and public employee unions than a public agency dedicated to building and maintaining highways.

    From the governor to the director to the transportation commissioners ODOT is an arrogant organization less concerned with the people of Oregon than with itself. A complete overhaul is in order to reinvigorate this dinosaur and get it back to serving the people. That may mean elected regional commissioners or more legislative oversight but something needs to be done before more public funds are squandered.

    Opening the records is a good first step but a dangerous one. A former legislator received threats when attempting such a move in the 1990’s. There are interests involved that don’t want to see any changes in any way.

    Good luck Sen. George.

  • Captain_Anon

    The fees presented seem reasonable to me. 25 cents a page? that’s normal. 5 bucks for a CD or a disk? normal. 25 bucks an hour? normal. time is money and when people ask the government to dig through files and archives, it takes time. that’s time they aren’t spending on other projects. everyone knows the reams of paper government agencies produce, and must store (state law says gov’s must keep all records for the past 7 years – so that’s a TON to sort through), so it’s entirely appropriate to charge. there are routinely people out there who request large amounts of information from government agencies, for who knows what, and expect the service to be free. wrong. it costs us tax payers for those services. so if you want the information, pay the cost it takes to get it. simple enough, and fair enough. I can’t believe people are complaining about the government recouping costs.

    putting information on the internet is a great idea. but it also costs to set it up, scan all the documents etc. it’s not cheap. the more that’s on there, there better, and i think gov’s could institute processes that when certain documents are made and released, admin also scans them so they are available electronically and/or online.

    • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

      Public disclosure and the associated labor is part of what we already pay taxes for. It is one of those government services whose cost is shared by all taxpayers, regardless of who uses it or how much. This is clearly a swipe at public access. Well funded lobbyists and political pressure groups of all political stripes will not be impeded in the slightest by this. The people who will be hurt are the ordinary citizens who can’t afford hundreds of dollars to find out about local projects that directly affect them.

      Governments do not put documents on the internet to ease public access. They put them there to ease their own access, or, in the case of a forms heavy bureaucracy like the IRS, because it is a money saving method of delivery. Public convenience is a side effect, not a goal.

      I’m glad to see you feel everyone should pay their own way. Maybe that means you’ll argue for the elimination of all government provided social welfare programs and raising the cost of a ride on MAX to $75. Thought not.

      • Captain_Anon

        Show me where it says public disclosure is a free service. taking time to find and sort documents takes away from other essential services. if there were, say staff persons, dedicated soley to helping with such tasks, then yes, the public would be sharing in the cost. however, with cost cuts over the last 6-7 years, those positions were eliminated. people have to pay for building permits, business licenses, drivers licenses, emissions testing and…. document research. maybe not ALL gov agencies put documents on line for the ease of the public, but many do.

        • Steve Plunk

          Captain,

          Mr. Liver’s position is reasonable and represents how things should be, I don’t see him saying it’s codified in any way.

          The costs associated with providing documents shoudl be absorbed by the agency rather than the agency using the costs as a cloak to hide details. Sen. George mentions examples of government doing just that.

          I think we all want transparency in government, don’t we? We have examples of government abusing rules to avoid transparency, so, the logic flows toward fixing the problem.

          The power to access information such as this is one of the last defenses we have against out of control bureaucrats. Let’s make it easier, not harder, and it will be better for all.

          • Captain_Anon

            I”m all for transparent government. However, transparancy doesn’t = free. We have to pay for services, that’s one of them. Plain and simple. 25 to 30 cents a page is the norm, check out the links i provided of other states. fact is many of our governments have had resources stripped in the name of cost cutting. good or bad, this is what has resulted. whereas those costs either were, or could have been absorbed by the agency, they no longer are. it’s not too much to ask citizens to pay for the documents they request.

            Perhaps people will start to realize that abuses of services is what usually triggers these requirements. crazy individuals who take up an enormous amount of staff time and government resources. one who easily comes to mind is that woman that had a restraining order obtained against her by the workers at the multnomah county animal shelter. she would go on all the time and have requests that not only demanded staff time and resources, but also then proceeded to shout threats and verbal abuse towards employees. crazies like that who suck tax payer funded services ruin it for everyone.

            and for the record, Sen. George never gave any facts about the document request. were the documents on rolls of micro film which could take hours to go through to try and find the particular document? were they in deep archives where they had to be transported to the appropriate building? most gov agencies have a central location where older documents go to reside. it’s a huge pain to try and locate the documents in the pits of those places. have you ever researched title histories on deeds without knowing the book and page numbers? can take HOURS. and is boring mind you! anyway, he left out a lot of pertinent information that could certainly add to the cost of the request.

      • Captain_Anon

        I looked up some other states and put links below. Washington and California are very similar to us.

        State of Washington Fee Schedule
        https://www.digitalarchives.wa.gov/Content.aspx?txt=fees

        California State Archives
        https://www.ss.ca.gov/archives/archives_about.htm

        New York Fees for geneology research
        https://www.health.state.ny.us/vital_records/genealogy.htm

        Florida fee schedule
        https://dlis.dos.state.fl.us/archives/Refpricelist.cfm

        Some of Idaho’s fees
        https://adm.idaho.gov/about/forms/Public_Records_Policy_and_Fee_Schedule_3-06.pdf

        • Ted Kennedy’s Liver

          To paraphrase my mother…

          “If Florida and New York jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge too?”

          The fact that other states have implemented bad public policy does not mean Oregon should.

          Once again for the thickies, public disclosure is not “free” any more than police or firemen are free. They are government services essential for a free and safe society for which we pay taxes.

          Arguing that these services should have user fees associated with them because the occasional nut stretches the patience of some government employees is like saying we shouldn’t have roads because some people speed and endanger others.

          If government employees are bored by doing records searches, perhaps they need to look for other employment.

          I’m still waiting on your answer on whether or not we should eliminate social welfare programs and end subsidies for MAX.

          • Captain_Anon

            I don’t believe you are the judge and jury on what is and isn’t good public policy. fact is, services cost mula. oregon tax payers have cut and slashed finances to pay for said services. as a result, said services now are born by the individual seeking them. live with the pain. the public workers you say who may be bored doing said searches i’m sure have more pressing and important tasks to complete than said searches. If you want services, pay for them. Oregon citizens are spoiled. this is just one of the consequences. if you don’t like it, find another state to live in, perhaps one that doesn’t charge fees for research or document requests. Oh wait, you’d end up in canada.

            Records requests vs. max? Apples and oranges. You can wait til the cows come home for me on that one.

  • devietro

    There are strong arguments saying that this access should be cost free but, we know thats not going to happen. I would love to see what sort of fee schedules other states or even counties use, is Oregon on track? I would suggest that putting this stuff online would be a viable solution but of course it has its own issues as well.

  • Harry

    $5 for each email.

    Wow.

    I get and send over 100 per day.

    I could live on half that, if I budgeted well, and drank domestic beer instead of fine Champaigne.

    Harry

  • Perturbed taxpayer

    I found a website for the group mentioned in the release:
    https://www.open-oregon.com/

    This group should be considered on a par with the Coalition for Initiative Rights, as both organizations are fighting for bedrock principles of a free society.

    The mainstream press seems to get it on public records availability. Captain Bureaucrat seems to miss the point.

    • Captain_Anon

      Bedrock principals? perhaps that’s why thier membership is so high and they have such a wide appeal. everyone in America is a member, right? I guess i skipped over the sections about the rights to free government services in John Locke, Adam Smith, and Abraham Lincoln’s writtings on the free market, free society and free service. and i guess i didn’t realize that “Oregoncatalyst” was ‘Mainstream media’. Silly me.

  • jim karlock

    Great idea, the government gives millions to developers and we have to pay $5 per email to findout about it.

    Why don’t they get back to us about increased fees right after they quit giving tax abatements and cash to millionaire developers.

    Thanks
    JK