State Public Records Czar Departs, Issues Scathing Report on Government Fees

Oregon hired Ginger McCall as their public records czar only eighteen months ago, her last day will be Friday. Citing interference from the governor’s office, she gave notice last month.

This week, as she prepared to leave, McCall voiced even weightier concerns. Having filed a last public report, she takes specific aim at fees the government charges records requesters in Oregon, calling them onerous. She noted the fees can sometimes reach $180 an hour to pay for lawyers to review and redact records.

“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.

The Oregonian points out that federal offices are only permitted to charge commercial requesters for review and redaction, not individuals or journalists. However, government bodies and offices in Oregon can and do set their own fees and policies, and McCall point out these can vary widely.

“Members of the public cannot afford to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars, nor can media representatives in today’s economically-constrained media atmosphere,” said McCall.

McCall called it outrageous and cruel for the Oregon Office of Child Care to quote the parents of a baby who died in a state-licensed day care a cost of $23,000 to get records connected to state’s oversight of the day care, and details of their child’s death.

Comparing Fed Fees, Oregon is Onerous

McCall went on to say Oregon’s fees are quite out of line compared with those the federal government charges. She also suggests officials should have less room to charge what they want.

The Federal Freedom of Information Act specifies the first two hours or 100 pages of any public records request are free, according to McCall. She also cited some states going even further – Alaska offers public records requesters the first five hours of processing time per calendar month for free.

McCall is also worried that if an elected official denies a request for records, the requesters only option is to go to court, which too costly for many people. She recommends making  immediate appeals available with an independent office.

By Andy Thompson