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Official: Oregon's fees on public records requests too high

She recommended a fee structure that give officials less room to charge what they want, and with lower rates.

Posted: Oct 9, 2019 5:27 PM
Updated: Oct 9, 2019 5:31 PM

By ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Fees charged by the state of Oregon and local governments for public records requests are high and wildly uneven, creating a barrier for journalists and citizens seeking documents, Oregon's first public records advocate said Wednesday.

Ginger McCall, who leaves her job Friday after her resignation announcement last month accused the governor's office of interference, said fees, sometimes reaching $180 per hour, are onerous compared to what the federal government and other states charge.

"Citizens cannot engage meaningfully with government or make educated choices about their democracy if they do not know what their government is doing. And public records are key to gaining that knowledge," McCall said, identifying fees as "the single most pressing issue."

She recommended a fee structure that give officials less room to charge what they want, and with lower rates.

Public records requesters who demand an outsized amount of government resources by making overly broad or frequent requests could be incentivized to narrow requests with the fee structure, she wrote. She noted that the federal Freedom of Information Act allows for the first two hours or 100 pages of any public records request to be free, and Alaska allows for the first five hours of public records request processing time per calendar month to be free of charge.


RELATED: Governor Brown 'deeply regrets' controversy over public records advocate's resignation


McCall, who is returning to Washington, D.C., to take a job with the federal government, also called for the Legislature and others to commit more resources to public records processing, to offset the costs to public bodies if they wind up collecting lower fees as she has recommended.

McCall announced her resignation in September, saying Gov. Kate Brown's office wanted her to secretly work for the governor while giving the impression she was working in the public interest. Brown, who appointed McCall in 2018 as Oregon's first-ever public records advocate, said she regrets the controversy and is committed to improving transparency.

McCall's final report also lamented that if an elected official denies a records request, the only option the requester has is to take the matter to court. That's too expensive for many people to pursue, she noted. An intermediate appeal option could be created in which a separate, independent office reviews elected officials' public records decisions, McCall said.

Brown is eager to hear the Public Records Advisory Council's recommendations based on McCall's report, said Charles Boyle, press secretary for the governor.

The council said last month that both it and the advocate should be truly independent, with the adviser appointed by the council, not by the governor. Brown says she supports that move.

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Washington292124
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Clackamas146438
Malheur71512
Deschutes5558
Lane5403
Jackson4211
Lincoln4149
Yamhill40412
Union3922
Jefferson3323
Morrow3272
Polk30112
Linn26310
Klamath2001
Hood River1780
Wasco1723
Benton1626
Douglas1401
Josephine1082
Coos890
Columbia860
Clatsop830
Crook421
Baker360
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Lake320
Wallowa191
Curry140
Sherman140
Harney100
Gilliam40
Grant20
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Wheeler00

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San Diego30516568
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Santa Clara11030192
Sacramento10174148
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Contra Costa8324131
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Santa Barbara652664
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Marin518076
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Merced458351
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Sonoma320842
Madera211432
Placer199819
San Luis Obispo197016
Yolo161442
Santa Cruz11964
Butte10128
Napa10079
Sutter8406
San Benito6894
El Dorado6681
Lassen6320
Yuba5334
Shasta4049
Colusa3594
Glenn3462
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Nevada3161
Tehama2491
Humboldt2454
Lake2111
Mono1461
Tuolumne1442
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Mariposa592
Plumas330
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Modoc40
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