Occasionally it is prudent to remind voters in Oregon of a few, fundamental elements regarding our access to government.
In Oregon, the presumption is always government is, and will always will be, open to public scrutiny. This scrutiny promotes our form of democracy and also furnishes a degree of transparency.
In short, all Oregonians have a right to know what their government is doing, how it is spending taxpayer money and what that money is spent on. This isn’t a nifty notion, or an aspiration. It is a right. Like the right to keep and bear arms. Like the right of free speech. It isn’t a debatable item.
In short, every single Oregonian has the right to prepare and deliver a public records request to any government entity to seek specific records. Some records are inaccessible and are “exempt.” These exempt records are that way for a very specific reason with a narrow scope.
The important question for readers is what is a newspaper’s role in such a paradigm. A newspaper — a good one at least — acts as a sort of de facto representative of the people. When matters that are important to the body politic as a whole come to light, the newspaper can act in the public interest and file a public records request. This action isn’t about pursuing red herrings or hounding hard-working elected and public officials. The process is designed to help inform the public — voters — so they can make good decisions about policy.
That’s because elected and appointed officials — at least in our nation — don’t get to do whatever they want whenever they want. Our system doesn’t work that way. Every public and elected official is beholden to the voters. Every public and elected official has but one responsibility — to represent their constituents.
That means, in the end, that public and elected leaders are required to be open with the public. Whether they want to or not, they must answer to the body politic. As a newspaper, our role is ensuring that those elected and appointed officials don’t lose sight of that important fact and to certify they are being open and transparent.
Occasionally, that system puts us at odds with people who have the best interest of the public at heart but don’t see why certain elements of their work should be open to the public. We take no pleasure creating more work for public or elected officials, but we consider our role as a watchdog to be vital for not only the health of our little piece of the republic but for the well-being of our system of government as a whole.
We take our job seriously, and readers should rest assured we will meet any challenge to keep our readers informed.
After all, that’s our job.