(I had uploaded this months ago, but somehow it got deleted from tumblr)
Today I contacted the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to get a copy of a case against former Rockaway Beach councilor David May. I was surprised with how quickly the call was answered (by an actual person!) and how quickly they responded to my questions.
The woman on the line put me on hold briefly and was able to give me a case number, the name of the complainant, the status of the case and a general synopsis of the allegations.
She was reading from the 11-page case file. She told me so.
“Thank you so much,” I said. “Can you fax or email me a copy of this document?”
Oh no, she couldn’t do that. It’s a public record, but I had to file an open records request.
That’s fine. Lots of government agencies like to have that paperwork on file.
But then she tells me there would be a fee and it could take several days for a response.
“I’m a newspaper on deadline,” I told her.
Sorry, she said. Records requests go through a different department.
“How long would it take?” I ask.
Depends on how busy they are.
“How much will it cost?”
Depends on staff time involved.
“You are literally holding the document in your hand right now. How much staff time would it take to fax it to me?”
Sorry, she says. It doesn’t work that way.
Then – this is her excuse for the charge I’ll face – she tells me that all government agencies are strapped for time and money right now. (Yeah, because private sector media companies aren’t strapped for those things either…)
Seriously. I don’t even know what else to say.
This is a public agency holding a record that belongs to the public. And it’s not going to take more than one minute of her time. In fact, it took more of her time to explain to me why she couldn’t fax it to me than it would have taken her to just fax it.
That should be some kind of ethics violation.
The clause about charging for public records is meant to protect government agencies from myriad and superfluous requests. It’s not meant for as a creative way to collect revenues from an additional “fee” or “tax,” nor is it an excuse for laziness by a government body.