From the Editor's Desk, Opinion

MEDIA ALLOWED. ACCESS DENIED. INVESTIGATION LAUNCHED. Part 4

Nearly four months after this reporter was booted from a Creswell School Board (CSB) executive session without cause, on June 29, Oregon Ethics Commission (OEC) unanimously voted to move the case into investigation.
With the CSB probe underway, OEC now has 180 days to investigate, during which time subpoenas for documents and oral testimony may be issued.
The aforementioned incident occurred on March 14, when then-Chair Mike Anderson wrongfully dismissed myself, a member of the media, from attending an executive session during a regularly-scheduled school board meeting. Additionally, I determined that there were not sufficient meeting minutes taken from that executive session. Both are considered violations of Oregon Public Meetings Law.
I consulted with Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association Lawyer Jack Orchard the day after the incident, who confirmed that Public Meetings Law violations had occurred.
For the next month, all attempts made to resolve the issue directly with CSB were unsuccessful. District administration stonewalled media requests to provide proper materials from that executive session — evidence that the meeting was held properly in the form of audio, meeting minutes or materials.
The lack of District compliance further raised eyebrows and stimulated a casus belli in the name of transparency. With no other way to obtain the answers needed, the complaint was filed with OEC on April 13.
After the complaint was received, the OEC found cause to conduct a preliminary review and came back with their findings two months later at their meeting in Salem.
According to the OEC Preliminary Review, “There appears to be substantial objective basis to believe that violations of the executive session provisions of Oregon Public Meetings Law may have occurred on March 14, 2018 when an executive session was held by the (Creswell School) Board from which a member of the media was excluded and may have been held improperly.”
At the end of the 180 day investigatory period, a report will be considered by the Commission in a regular public meeting, which is slated for Dec. 14 in Salem.
The commission may dismiss the case, continue the investigation for no more than 30 days, find that Executive Session Law was violated, seek a negotiated settlement or take other appropriate action if justified.
Whatever the outcome OEC determines in December, this mishap serves as a refresher crash-course civics lesson for all of us, whether we’re involved or observing this issue unfold.
Since this incident occurred in the early months of 2018, it’s prompted a series of Chronicle editorials, letters and a squall of community concern.
And with good reason.
Even in supposedly sleepy-eyed cities like Creswell, the public has a right to know what happens behind the closed doors of whom they elect to serve. Open meeting laws were put in place to grant every citizen the right, authority and the direct access to decisions that affect us. They were created to promote a transparent government and increase agency accountability.
Because of these laws the public is the master of the government; it is not the reverse.
So when these laws are violated — when the public is left in the dark for whatever reason — it allows these entities to control the narrative, to open the possibility of keeping secrets from the citizens they are supposed to be serving.
But not if we don’t let them.
The media, the public, all have access to these tools to ensure our own democracy, like filing a complaint to the OEC. About 90 percent of their cases are a result of complaints submitted by the public; the rest come from other sources, such as media coverage or government agencies.
The public is in control, so long as we defend and exercise our rights.
The Chronicle will report back the OEC’s findings after their Dec. 14 meeting.
CHECK IT OUT FOR YOURSELF
— Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual
https://goo.gl/vm8myy
— Creswell School District Executive Sessions Policy
https://goo.gl/oWS4eD
— OSBA Board of Operations for Public Meetings
https://goo.gl/N5GnX1
— OSBA Public Meetings Handout
See Media Attendance
https://goo.gl/nmk7gT
— Quick reference guide to Oregon Public Laws
https://goo.gl/PXQKqa
— Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual breakdown
See II. E.4. Media Representation at Executive Session
https://goo.gl/G9qzb9
— The Federal Freedom of Information Act
https://goo.gl/GnViGN
— The Government in the Sunshine Act
https://goo.gl/9yto3u
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