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The Fight for Transparency Continues

“Oregon’s public records law is internally contradictory and ambiguous,” Senior Assistant to the President, Dave Hubin says.

Did you know that the UO has a faculty Senate? They meet once a month and even have committees devoted to certain aspects of governance. All meetings, including those of Senate and its committees, are open to students. I attended one yesterday– it was all very new and scary to me. Wondering how their efficacy compares to the ASUO Senate?

At a Senate Transparency Committee (STC) meeting, Economics Professor Bill Harbaugh (head of the committee, who’da thunk it?), lined out some important questions for Dave Hubin at an STC meeting. Some of them were addressed.

The first: Why is Public Records Officer Lisa Thornton no longer attending the STC meetings?
Members urged that Thornton’s position necessitates her participation in matters of transparency.

Hubin explained that the Public Records Office is of least authority since Richard Lariviere charged him with overseeing the Office, having it report directly to the Senior Assistant.

“Because it reports directly to me, it makes sense for me to represent the Public Records Office in this venue,” Hubin said.

“I think it’s great you come to these meetings, but if you are representing the Public Records Officer, you need to be prepared to answer detailed questions,” Harbaugh said.

“As an officer in the Public Records Office I’d like to hear the complaints. I’m willing to discuss themes, patterns, and even some specifics,” Hubin replied. “Some things I just might have to say, ‘I need to get that information for you.’ ”

Harbaugh said that this is the problem. He described how Thornton’s absence restricts the STC’s ability to cultivate transparency, essentially function.

In Hubin’s defense, as he explained, “As a supervisor, I have a legal obligation, when it comes to a hostile work environment, to protect that individual.”

Being asked questions (about transparency, no less) is stressful and intimidating– apparently something that wasn’t in the Public Records Officer job description.

As per the agenda, the conversation then turned to the practices regarding process and fees. Hubin
explained that Oregon law allows Public Records Offices to charge fees for the processing and printing of fees. He said that Lariviere charged him with making the process more easy.

Harbaugh then wished to know if Hubin would be willing to produce the advice given to him by the Administration regarding pricing of public records requests and fee waivers (this is important for one main reason: Public records requests are eligible for a fee waiver if they are deemed to be in the public interest. But who is responsible for making that distinction? And what is the criteria?).

“That’s lawyer-client confidentiality,” Hubin replied.

“How about general advice?” Harbaugh said. “We have no idea what advice you’re getting to implement these policies, because they are very unclear.” Harbaugh also asked about the emails between the president and Hubin.

This is particularly interesting because of the constant flip-flopping taking place in Johnson Hall regarding what is considered safe to divulge of public interest (UO Matters story from last year).

Hubin said, “We provided you with 19 pages of emails, with just one redacted line.”

“That was the only line of substance,” Harbaugh said.

“You don’t know what’s behind that redaction.”

I think this is what they were talking about.

Stonewalled again, Harbaugh moved the discussion toward a complaint about a public record request made by Emerald Media. The request was simple: Ducks Basketball ticket sales.

It cost an Emerald reporter, a student of the University of Oregon, $109 to get the information on UO basketball ticket sales. Dash said that it took them three weeks to get the information. This is where the meeting got a little heated.

Diane Dietz from the Register Guard, Dash Paulson from Emerald Media and I, representing the OC, all agreed that there is something wrong with the process if these simple and reasonable requests are met with such red tape.

Dave Hubin seems to be protecting the Public Records Officer alright. Protecting her from doing her job.

Luckily, the STC was able to make a recommendation in the name of transparency and all that is holy. The committee moved to advise that Hubin recommend to the administration that there be a presumption that requests by students are in the public interest and given a fee waiver.

Let’s see which requests the Public Records Office deems to be reasonable, versus which are unreasonable and subject to processing fees.

Correction [02-17]: Changed to say Lisa Thornton instead of Lisa Clawson as was earlier posted. I highly regret this mistake.