Oregon Attorney General John Kroger has published a revised, on-line version of the state Public Records and Meetings Manual that he says will help make state government more transparent.
“Changes to the manual reflect new legislation, recent court decisions and a fresh look at previous interpretations of the law,” Kroger said in a news release issued today.
One major change involves “a longstanding legal interpretation that allowed public bodies to take as much time responding to public records requests as they could justify under the nebulous standard of ‘reasonableness.’” The revised manual states that “it is the public’s right of inspection that must be reasonable. Thus, public bodies must make records available as quickly as they reasonably can.” The manual suggests that 10 working days is a reasonable time for making records available in most cases.
According to the new manual, the attorney general’s office “can examine state agency fees if it appears that the true purpose of the fees is to effectively deny the request rather than recoup costs as the law allows.” Also, the section describing how to appeal a decision to withhold a record has been reorganized to make it “more accurate and, hopefully, easier to follow.”
Kroger said publishing the manual on-line will make it easier and cheaper to update it. The searchable HTML format is “designed to allow users to easily find relevant discussions,” he said. Also, it allows the AG’s office to offer the manual free for “the first time in decades.” A printed version also will be available, but hasn't been issued yet.
Publication of the new manual follows a yearlong “Government Transparency Initiative” that involved meetings statewide in which “hundreds of comments and suggestions” were collected.
“The next step is to draft legislation for the 2011 Legislature to further improve the law and increase transparency in Oregon government,” Kroger’s news release said.
We can hope things will work out that way – but if the legislature runs true to form, it more likely will take the opportunity to carve out more special-interest loopholes in the public meetings and records law.