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Public Records Advocate to Pursue Independence
They keep resigning. Is that a problem?

Now on Governor Kate Brown's third Public Records Advocate, Deputy Advocate Todd Albert has been appointed as Oregon’s new Public Records Advocate, replacing Becky Chiao, who resigned after clashing with the state board accusing the governor’s staff of pressuring her to take their side on public records matters rather than maintaining independence. The appointment follows the release of The Public Record Advisory Council’s bi-annual report. That is on the heels of the Secretary of State’s audit criticizing a lack of safeguards on private information. While we all want transparency and access to records, we cherish our privacy. Where is the happy medium?

In September, 2019, Ginger McCall resigned as Public Records Advocate. Upon resigning, Ms. McCall produced a report of her findings recommending that the council pursue independence. This was pursued in SB 1506 during the 2020 session. It passed the Senate with unanimous support, but didn’t make it through the House before the session ended. Advocate Todd Albert plans to pursue a modified legislative concept for independence in the upcoming 2021 legislative session.

Since the previous report was submitted on December 1, 2018, 345 requests for assistance have been received from members of the public, representatives of the media and employees of state and local governments. Such requests have included the resolution of disputes involving the identification of appropriate records, overcoming exemptions to disclosure, the application of fees, standards for processing fee waivers and reductions, vexatious or frequent requesters, and the development of policies to ensure consistent resolution of public records requests.

In keeping with the Public Records Advisory Council’s responsibilities under ORS 192.483(a), state agencies and other public bodies were surveyed on practices and procedures for receiving public records requests, identifying the existence of records responsive to the requests and gathering and disclosing responsive records. The survey was used to advance several important goals, design policies and propose future legislation.

For public bodies that don’t yet have public records policies, the Office will endeavor to work with those offices to create public records policies that promote transparency and are user-friendly.

ORS 192.475(3) empowers the Advocate to issue written advisory opinions. The new Advocate would like to begin issuing such opinions, providing that it has sufficient staffing and resources to provide a high quality of opinion.

Albert spent 11 years as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society in New York. He is a graduate of Brooklyn Law School and Boston University. “As Public Records Advocate, I will continue to provide thoughtful and useful mediations, trainings, and advice about the public records law to public employees and members of the public alike, and I am excited to work with the Public Records Advisory Council to set new priorities and goals moving forward,” Albert said.

He will have the challenge of satisfying transparency and access to records with the privacy we all demand.

--Donna Bleiler

Post Date: 2020-11-20 16:58:03Last Update: 2020-11-20 19:41:44

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