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Enterprise donates penalty fee to journalist fund that helps with government records access

The Malheur County Development Corp. has paid the $200 penalty imposed on the public company for neglecting to properly disclose public records.

The public company in charge of the Treasure Valley Reload Center made the payment to the Malheur Enterprise under an order issued by Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.

The Enterprise subsequently donated the money to a special fund maintained by the Oregon chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists that helps news organizations cover costs in obtaining public records.

“We have been fighting for years to get access to records about the Nyssa reload center. We have had to turn to Mr. Goldthorpe time after time,” said Les Zaitz, Enterprise publisher. “We want to encourage journalists elsewhere in the state to never give up in holding public officials accountable for how they use public money. Our donation, though small, is intended to show how Oregon law can overcome bureaucratic obstacles.”

Public records experts in Oregon say it was the first time such a penalty has been awarded to a news organization in the state. The law, sponsored by then-state Rep. Karin Powers, passed as House Bill 2353 in the 2019 Oregon Legislature. Greg Smith, a state representative from Heppner and a contractor for Malheur County Development Corp., voted for the law.

Goldthorpe imposed the penalty after the development company failed to respond to two public records requests submitted by the Enterprise in August. The development company, under orders from Goldthorpe, then released a two-page document in response to a request for months’ worth of budgeting records and eight documents in response to a request for documents concerning the unstable ground conditions at the rail center.

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