Oregon Senate Approves Bill Making Public Records Advocate Independent from Governor’s Office

The Oregon governor’s office and state government in general took a step toward greater transparency this week, as the Oregon Senate passed a bill that would make the office of the Public Records Advocate independent.

Gov. Kate Brown was instrumental in creating the office of the Public Records Advocate three years ago, but erred — in the eyes of some observers, including Republican Rep. Bill Post, from Keizer — by placing the new position under the umbrella of her own office.

A conflict of interest was, perhaps, inevitable, and it didn’t take long to happen or to become public, when the state’s first-ever public records czar, Ginger McCall, resigned suddenly last year amid allegations Gov. Brown’s general counsel and other staff attempted to pressure her to secretly represent the governor’s interests.

Ultimately, Gov. Brown herself admitted the decision to establish the advocate and Public Records Advisory Council under the oversight of the governor’s office was “flawed” from the start.

This week, the Senate took the first step toward correcting the situation in unanimously passing SB 1506, which makes the advocate’s position truly independent, giving the position’s appointment and removal power to the Public Records Advisory Council (instead of the governor) and taking steps to ensure the office’s autonomy.

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The purpose of the office is to increase transparency in state government, hold state agencies and elected officials accountable to following public records law, and improve communications between seekers of public information and those in possession of that information.

“The Public Record Advocate’s role is critical and challenging,” Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) said in a press release. “The public deserves access to information about its government and a process in place to gain that information which is simple to follow. By passing SB 1506, we take an important step forward to that end.”

The Advocate balances the tensions between government transparency and privacy protectionsfor those who are subject of a requested record. The position also serves members of the press, helping to make certain the public has ease of access to pertinent government information.

“By adding greater independence to this office, we ensure the rights of those parties are balanced and we improve transparency in our government,” said Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro).

SB 1506 has received bipartisan support throughout the legislative process. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

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