For the Good of Illinois

The Oregonian: In Oregon, the battle against transparency is bipartisan (Opinion)

October 30, 2016 10:45 AM
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In Oregon, the battle against transparency is bipartisan (Opinion)

 
 
2016-11-02_0-35-07
 
Adam Andrzejewski
 
The supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald J. Trump have one thing in common: Both are upset by what they perceive as government by, for, and of the special interests.
 
Imagine how upset they would be if they knew everything that goes on.
 
Imagine how upset all of us might be.
 
Knowledge is power, and access to facts gives citizens the means to "fight City Hall." The good news is that big data and technology are giving us new ways to expand oversight of government. The bad news, at least here in Oregon, is that the effort to fight transparency is bipartisan.
 
Some powerful Oregon politicians in both parties circumvent, and thus violate, Oregon's open record laws. This makes it difficult for citizens and the media to monitor government and expose abuse of taxpayer dollars.
 
Consider the Republican-controlled board in Lane County. This summer, our organization, American Transparency, filed an open records request with all 1,509 municipal units of Oregon government. We asked for the salaries of public employees. To date, nearly 1,000 units have produced their records. Then, there's Republican Lane County, which sent us an invoice for $24,000 instead.
 

"Some powerful Oregon politicians in both parties circumvent, and thus violate, Oregon's open record laws. This makes it difficult for citizens and the media to monitor government and expose abuse of taxpayer dollars."

 
Oregon Democrats aren't any better than the Lane County Republicans. It seems that both parties support government opacity.
 
Governor Kate Brown's office and House Speaker Tina Kotek's office weren't much better at transparency.
 
Four months ago, Oregon Capitol Watch paid $2,700 to the governor and speaker for time sheets, calendars, credit card statements and reimbursements. At the start of this week, no records had been produced by either office.
 
Zero.
 
Oregon's open records laws need to be updated. First, transparency should be completely free to all citizens and organizations. Charging for "open records" makes a mockery of the term "freedom of information." Next, stonewalling in the form of delays, redactions, and non-responsiveness should lead to fines and firings of the employees responsible.
 
In 1913, an early progressive, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis, recognized the power of transparency: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." Disinfecting government at every level should become the rallying cry of an abused electorate.
 
Oregon citizens need to flex some muscle and start enforcing transparency law at the ballot box. If your representative doesn't support dramatically expanded transparency, find another that will.
 
Adam Andrzejewski is chief executive of OpenTheBooks.com, an Illinois-based nonprofit that tracks government spending with 3 billion government expenditures posted online.

 

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