Bipartisan Bill Would Free Public Records Czar from Gubernatorial Influence

A bipartisan measure that would shield the state’s public records czar from political influence from the governor’s office cleared the Senate this week with near-unanimous support.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 500, would make the office of the public records advocate independent, rather than falling under the umbrella — and potential influence — of Governor Kate Brown or future leaders.

“The public’s access to government records shouldn’t be political,” said Senator Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who authored the legislation. “This bill will rebuild trust between Oregonians and their government. It will ensure more transparency and accountability in the handling of public records.”

The state’s first public records advocate, Ginger McCall, resigned in 2019, while alleging the governor’s office pressured her to represent Brown’s interests before the state’s Public Records Advisory Council and in handling public records requests.

Her successor, Becky Chiao, also stepped down last year after concerns arose over her objection to making the office independent from politics.

SB500 has broad support from journalists, advocates, and current public records czar Todd Albert.

In written testimony in support of the bill, Albert said that making the office independent would “focus its limited resources on continuing the day-to-day work of being an impartial, consistently reliable office that has become a trusted voice in the ongoing conversation about transparency and access to information in Oregon.”

Even Brown herself, who proposed the office of the public records advocate in 2017, later admitted that placing the position under the governor’s office was a mistake.

SB500 was passed out of the Senate Wednesday by a vote of 28-1 — the only “nay” coming from Dallas Heard, R-Roseburg, who has voted against virtually every bill that’s come before him this year in protest of what he claims is manipulation of the session agenda by majority Democrats.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

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