Jack Orchard

Homelessness is a community issue. Like a Southern Oregon wildfire, its causes often start small and quietly and then spread dramatically.

The City of Roseburg has successfully obtained a $1.5 million state grant to study and then act upon Roseburg’s specific homeless problems, including the creation of a shelter. Doing so is as complicated as understanding why homelessness exists in a geographically separate community of some 25,000 people.

As reported in The News-Review, the city initially attempted to approach the problem and ultimately the potential use of the grant money by seeking the advice of “stakeholder” committees. The Immediate Needs Ad Hoc Committee was created in June and city officials have also discussed the creation of at least two other similar committees. The city administration declared that these committees’ meetings would be non-public (secret) events. Various justifications were offered by the city to The News-Review — “streamlining,” “avoiding the red tape” of publicly accessible meetings, encouraging candor in discussion.

The difficulty in acting this way is that the city’s sponsorship and involvement in these discussions is contrary to Oregon’s commitment to open government. It excludes public governmental observation and impedes offering good ideas from those not part of the process.

Keeping homeless policy conversations behind closed doors breeds rumor and cynicism that “stakeholders”’ are acting in their interests and not necessarily in the public’s interest. Concerns over particular perspectives, even well-meaning

ones, may be seen as having a disproportionate influence over city actions.

Wisely, after The News-Review questioned both the legality and the policy of doing public business privately, the city backed off. Such is the role of a community newspaper. The city now says it will work on a homeless Navigation Center through and with the Homeless Transition Action Group (HTAG), a county-wide advisory group.

Where this fits with the state’s seven figure city grant requirements is currently unclear. Also unclear is how this revised process will be publicly open and observable — a HTAG meeting on Wednesday, which reportedly was attended by at least two top city officials, was closed to the public.

These meetings should be open to the public, to avoid questions about whether insiders will have an inside pathway to taxpayer money and if certain approaches will result in money well-spent.

Both the public and The News-Review have a right to monitor and evaluate this alternative process. Openness is the key.

That’s because homelessness is a public challenge — one to be understood and addressed at the public level. While the efforts of city officials and groups like churches and non-profits are valued and welcome, the true stakeholder is the Roseburg community. The community is entitled to an open conversation of strategies and policies. There is no home for doing it otherwise.

Portland attorney Jack Orchard is one of the preeminent media law experts in Oregon. He represents dozens of news organizations throughout the state, including The News-Review, through an agreement with the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.

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(15) comments

Josh Tibbetts

Amen, Brother!

CitizenJoe

Yes. Sunlight/disinfectant.

The public's business must be conducted in public. Hear that, Commissioners?

And good for the News-Review. The fourth estate is essential to democracy. Subscribe, now!

GhostofTMcCall

Hate to break it to you, most government business, city and County, doesn't happen in "public." You think the County's 23 departments are just sitting around all day. The most consequential decisions in government are done in the day to day operations of county/city business outside of public meetings. You should educate yourself on what government functions are required by law to take place in a public meeting and what is not. Contracts, approval of budgets, ordinance changes, actions requiring a hearing, etc, require public meetings. If every action in government required a public meeting nothing would ever get done.

Mike

Please point to where Joe said "every action in government" requires a public meeting. You can't because that's not what he wrote. You OFTEN falsely assert quotes people never wrote. Maybe it is you who "should educate yourself" on reading comprehension.

mworden

I support public meeting. The law allows personnel issues and some legal issues to be discussed in executive session -- privately, not secretly. The public process can be a tremendous pain in neck, but it's an important part of the "Oregon System."

As a side note: Commissioner Tim Freeman used to be the President of the Roseburg City Council. It was Tim and his cohorts who started and encouraged the use of ad hoc committees, closed to the public. This was despite the objections of citizens, the mayor and a minority of councilors. A majority of councilors could end the use of non-public ad hoc committees at any time. They would still have the use of executive sessions for certain negotiations and personnel matters.

GhostofTMcCall

U.S. Citizen and true American Patriot mworden: Always a commissioners fault, even when they haven't been a City Councilor for 15 years? As a side note, City Councilors take their cues on the legal processes for conducting meetings from the city staff, including the city's legal counsel.

mworden

Respected Counsel for the Defense Ghost: It's history man. The past is prologue, as they say. The council's job is to set policy for staff. Of course, policy has to conform with the law, but surely you know that something can be legal without it being a good practice.

The point is that it hasn't been this way at city hall since the beginning of government. It was pushed through by a former council's voting bloc, with Tim leading the charge. The current council could set a policy that told staff that non-public ad hoc meetings do not live up to the ideals of the Oregon System of open government and an empowered citizenry.

It's significant that as a city councilor, Tim liked the idea of blocking public access. As a commissioner, he has participated in similar controversies. If it was a single meeting policy confined to 15 years ago, it wouldn't matter. But it's an on-going pattern that continued right up to the past year.

In keeping with the theme of the opinion piece, I'd say people have the right to know.

GhostofTMcCall

Honorable senator from the state of bewilderment: I would argue that the "similar controversies" were contrived by political opponents that proved to be false. Although, I am happy to be corrected if you have facts to refute me on this. I yield the rest of my time to the Senator from the state of Shock.

mworden

Esteemed Protector of the Faith: I'd say similar controversy over the public record was contrived by a political ally in an attempt to protect Tim from criticism after Tim said something unfortunate and false. The removal of access to public records proved to be true.

You may wish to place the blame for the controversy on my honorable frenemy of the commentarian class, but said frenemy had no power to remove access to public records going back to 2015. I would suspect that such a drastic action would require the concurrence of two out of the three commissioners. But I could be wrong on that. It just seems tyrannical to remove access for everyone in order to slap down a single critic.

Here's the irony: I never paid much attention to the frenemy until access to public records was removed in order to protect Tim from criticism. It motivated me to learn all I could. I read all the critical posts, even going back in time. Removing access to public records to stop a comment section critic ... it's like using a canon to shoot a mosquito. Obviously, a raw nerve had been struck and was followed by the always controversial action of removing public access to public records. So dang self-defeating. Indefensible actually. But true Protectors of the Faith know how to split hairs and parse words in order to find a defense or mount an offense.

Wouldn't it be easier to admit that removing public access due to injured feelings was a real d!ck move by elected officials? A true friend would advise his pals not to engage in punitive actions just to satisfy riled emotions.

mworden

I forgot to add this link:

https://www.nrtoday.com/news/health/coronavirus/updated-commissioners-removed-meeting-video-following-criticism-on-covid-19-messaging/article_988cf552-7c72-56f4-bf69-e9d7c96f71bd.html

GhostofTMcCall

I find it interesting that we can both read the same news article and come away with much different perspectives on what was reported. I remember Mr. Reuhle's continued rehashing of old statements made very early on in the pandemic by Commissioner Freeman. I do not think the statement Commissioner Freeman made at the time was any different than what was coming from the federal government's official spoke people at the time. Despite, as new information becoming available, Commissioner Freeman evolving his opinions, Mr. Ruehle continued to act as though that was still the viewpoint of the Board of Commissioners. Was it right for the Board to remove the video? I don't really have a strong opinion either way as I can understand both arguments. It's record of a public officials opinion at a point in time being misused by a member of the public for personal partisan reasons. That happens all the time. The Board should have thicker skin to that type of boorish behavior. However, if the misinformation campaign confuses the public about current public health messaging than I can see the point in taking down the video. What better serves the public? It seems that most people's answer is dependent upon their personal opinion of the Commissioners rather than a true balance test of public interests.

All that being said, I don't think this a good example of a pattern of lack of transparency. Just my opinion -- and I'm often wrong.

mworden

Ghost, my dear colleague, please re-read the above article by Jack Orchard. It's about the importance of government doing business in public. Then read this:

https://www.doj.state.or.us/oregon-department-of-justice/public-records/attorney-generals-public-records-and-meetings-manual/ii-public-meetings/

"Any minutes or recording of a public meeting that does not take place in executive session must be made available to the public “within a reasonable time after the meeting.” Draft written minutes cannot be withheld from the public merely because they have not yet been approved; however, the governing body can identify the minutes as being in draft form when producing them to the requester. Any completed minutes or sound, video, or digital recordings are public records subject to disclosure under the Public Records Law."

The commissioners responded to criticism of Tim Freeman by removing the public record. That was wrong. It violated the both the idea of the Oregon form of government and statutes on the subject.

It doesn't matter if the critic was using old info or behaving like an ... ahem ... brass bowl in his criticism. A private citizen does not have the same duty to the public as an elected official and governmental body does.

It doesn't matter if the critic was wrong in his criticism. It's much more wrong for the government officials to respond by hiding the public record of Tim's stupid statement. Tim's statement was highly stupid. I give him credit for getting with the program and evolving his opinion as more info became available.

Instead of hiding the evidence of Tim's statement, a proper and legal response would have been for the commissioners to repeatedly update their public statements as more information about covid became available.

Instead they hid the public record. What they did was much worse than anything the critic has done. If you've been paying attention, you may realize that the critic and I have been in disagreement about his lists of old statements given by public officials. I am not defending his behavior.

But -- and this is important -- as a private citizen, the critic has a right to criticize, whether the public officials like it or not, whether the critic is right or wrong. The public officials do not have the right to respond by hiding the public record in an attempt to avoid criticism of their official statements and actions.

Private citizens and elected government officials have different obligations to the public. When the critic lodged his criticism of Tim, he may have violated social rules advocated by Miss Manners. When the commissioners removed the video, they violated Oregon's public meetings laws.

Sorry, Ghost, but there's no way to defend public officials violating state law in response to a violation of etiquette.

Once again, quoting the Oregon Department of Justice: "Any completed minutes or sound, video, or digital recordings are public records subject to disclosure under the Public Records Law."

GhostofTMcCall

You and I are going to just have to disagree on several key points. 1) Commissioner Freeman's statement wasn't "stupid" in my opinion. In fact, at the time Mike was continuing to bring it up in these comment sections I found an almost verbatim statement that Fauci had made at the same time. Secondly, as you noted removing the video recording wasn't illegal or a violation of the law. The argument about the "spirit of the law" or the "intent of the law" in my humble opinion is just creative semantics used to make a point. It's either illegal or it isn't.

So the fact is, under the law the Board of Commissioner COULD remove the recording from their website -- so to me the only debatable issue was whether or not they SHOULD. Again, I think their is a reasonable argument for both side on this.

But back to where this all started, you claim that Commissioner Freeman has a pattern of blocking public access to public information -- and again, I do not see any evidence of that.

mworden

To me, the most important part of this discussion is that we could disagree without being disagreeable to each other. We talked it out, neither one of us is swayed, but neither of us launched any f-bombs (as happened in another thread yesterday) or threw any ad hom grenades.

Nice discussion even if we still disagree.

GhostofTMcCall

Maybe we should provide classes on communication to Congress? What I try to go back to is that often times people have the same goal but different views on how to achieve them. We both agree that transparency in government is important. Therefore, I can accept different perspective on how this is or isn't being achieved. While I disagree with you at the moment, I will keep observing and maybe I will see things differently in the future.

I have a lot of other things going on in my life and really don't have time for internet commenting anymore. This is a good discussion to leave on - so thanks for that.

Keep, keeping people honest...

...I yield the rest of my time to the honorable mworden...

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