Across the country people are going to government meetings asking for better government. In Oregon the Attorney General is asking people for their input and Darrell Flood answered the call to make sure the elected officials in Oregon know that government information needs to be online and updated in real time. He has graciously shared his experience with us.
My name is Darrell Flood. I used to be a cop and after I was unable to do that I couldn’t suppress the urge to help people, so I became an activist. I have testified before government agencies for the past three and a half years – mostly at the local level, once at the state regarding ethics and most recently at the Attorney General’s Government Transparency Initiative Meeting. So, I am no expert on providing testimony, but I don’t consider myself a novice either.
The Transparency Initiative is a series of meetings across the state to get input from the public on Oregon’s transparency laws. I signed up to be at the one in Portland, Oregon. In preparation for the meeting I spent some time reviewing the statutes, the public records and the meetings manual from the State of Oregon. For my testimony, I had written a nice long story about things I had encountered and then showed it to my wife. She said the following “It is too long and you only have 2 minutes. They are not there for your story telling, you have to be quick.” So, after some rewrites I had my testimony.
We showed up to the meeting about a half hour before it started and signed in–also signing the testimony sheet. When the meeting started the moderator introduced the panel, which included Attorney General John Kroger and his new Government Transparency Counsel Michael Kron. After we heard the panel, Kroger stated that he was holding these meetings to get ideas from the public on how transparency should look. The moderator advised us of the rules: We would be given a whole 2 minutes before we would be cut off. Isn’t it amazing that when the government asks for our opinion we only get 2 minutes? Boy was I glad mine was only 2 minutes.
So, I got in line. As I was waiting for my turn I thought about what Ellen Miller must have felt like waiting to give her testimony at the Senate. I asked myself, “Is someone else going to say what I say first and then I will look like a copy cat? Am I going to get my turn? My back hurts from standing in this line.” At the same time, I was listening to the testimony. I noticed that just as people were getting into their stride the moderator would interrupt and tell them they only had 30 seconds left. I hate that. It seems to be the ploy of most government panels to rush the speaker and make them feel as though you are taking up their time. I’m next. How do I counter this ploy? So, I step up to the mic and I inform the moderator that I have timed my testimony and it is 2 minutes. Then I began.
“My name is Darrell Flood.
I live in Lafayette, Oregon.
I have had to become an activist for access. The attorney general’s manual refers to me as a “busy body” looking to embarrass local officials. I am looking for facts. But as long as the stereotype is quoted by your office, citizens cannot be taken seriously.”
The audience laughed, but what happened next surprised us all. “Where does it say that in the manual?” the Oregon State Attorney General John Kroger asked.
“Right up front,” I replied.
He said, “Come show it to me.” So, I approached the panel and took his book and opened it to the first page and pointed to the paragraph I referred to. Which he began to read aloud,
“Generally, the identity, motive and need of the person requesting access to public records are irrelevant. Interested persons, news media representatives, business people seeking access for personal gain, busybodies on fishing expeditions, persons seeking to embarrass government agencies, and scientific researchers all stand on an equal footing.”
Kroger explained that the statement was intended to place all people requesting public records on even ground. I said that may be true, but you are continuing a stereotype by having that in the manual. He then turned to Michael Kron and stated that maybe something could be done about that and Michael agreed.
Wow! Did that feel great. It showed me that given a chance anybody can make a change even if it begins with something small. Then the Moderator advised me that I still had my time. So I thanked him and finished my testimony. You can read the full version below.
The rest of the meeting went well as many people spoke of issues regarding public documents and public meetings. I heard another speaker state that he agreed with this “busybody” that all documents should be online.
So, it begins with a small seed in the minds of the concerned public that were attending the Oregon Transparency Hearings. The job has only begun. In the fall 2010 the Oregon State Attorney General John Kroger plans to put forth legislation to make Oregon more transparent. I will be there to make sure it is what the citizens want. Our goal is they implement nothing less then what Public = Online demands. Nothing less is acceptable.
Your “Busybody” from Oregon,
My name is Darrell Flood. I live in Lafayette, Oregon.
I have had to become an activist for access. The attorney general’s manual refers to me as a busy body looking to embarrass local officials. I am looking for facts. But as long as the stereotype is quoted by your office, citizens cannot be taken seriously. The state advises that government may pass on reasonable charges for access to documents, but no one can agree what reasonable is.
The City of West Linn charges $9.00 a page.
The City of Portland charges 25 cents a page. But, the Portland Fire Bureau charges $2.00 a page.
The City of Lafayette charges $10.00 for every half hour and 25 cents a page.
Lafayette charges $5.00 for each recorded cd. But, the City of Sheridan charges $20.00.
The State Legislative Administration office charges more that $30.00 an hour just to find out if they even have a document.
Reasonable is relative. I already pay for the computer, the person and the documents. So, why do I have to pay to get them? There is no standard. I want legislation to determine what reasonable is.
My ideal would be that governments would create a web access site and all documents would live there. For $120.00 a year, each city could do this and it would hold more information than they could ever provide.
Public means all documents, on line, free of charge, to everyone.
I believe, if access were available, your office would have to hire a whole set of staff just to deal with the corruption that would be found. And that appears to be a reason citizens seem to be blocked from getting the information they want. People want the information they pay for and the people who are paid to represent them need to provide it.
Thank you for your time.