SALEM — A state council formed to improve Oregonians’ access to government records has endorsed a slate of reforms to make the state’s public records advocate more independent from political influence.
The council met Tuesday to hash out the proposed changes after the sudden resignation Sept. 9 of Oregon’s first public records advocate, Ginger McCall, who chairs the council.
McCall cited undue influence from the office of Gov. Kate Brown and called for more independence for the advocate going forward. Her last day is Oct. 11.
She and other open government advocates say more independence can help ensure public trust in the advocate’s role advising the public, mediating disputes between requesters and government bodies, and advocating for policies to improve transparency in government.
The position of the advocate was created by law in 2017.
Under current law, the governor appoints the advocate. The governor chooses from three candidates selected by the council and the Oregon Senate votes to confirm that candidate.
The council proposed that it choose the advocate instead, and that the law state that the office of the public records advocate is independent.
Under the proposal, the advocate would no longer automatically be the chair of the council unless the council votes to name them chair. Many of the council members would still be appointed by the governor.
The proposal would set a four-year term for the advocate and allow for the advocate to be reappointed for additional terms. The council could remove the advocate for cause.
Current law says that the governor can remove the advocate for cause or give consent to the council to do so. The council’s proposal removes those provisions.
The council has also proposed that it may support or oppose legislation relating to public records, and may ask that one or multiple legislators introduce bills relating to the state’s public records law. That would be different from somewhat comparable agencies, such as the state ethics commission or liquor control commission, which must go through the governor’s office to introduce bills.
Council members want to put forth the changes in a legislative proposal for state lawmakers to consider early next year in the roughly month-long legislative session.
Reporter Claire Withycombe: email@example.com or 971-304-4148.
DISCLOSURE: Les Zaitz, editor of the Malheur Enterprise, is a member of the state Public Records Advisory Council.