MEDIA BARRED FROM MEETING ATTENDED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS
By W. Scott Jorgensen
Posted 1:00 AM Eastern
July 30, 2008
GRANTS PASS, OR. --Monday afternoon 7-28-08, I received word that several high-level officials from all over the State of Oregon are having a meeting right here in Josephine County.
Attendees included Multnomah County Commissioner Ted Wheeler, two of the three Jackson County Commissioners, state representatives Ron Maurer and Dennis Richardson, state senator Jason Atkinson, Josephine County Commissioner Dave Toler and people from Governor Ted Kulongoski's office, the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Congressman Greg Walden's office, just to name a few.
So one could assume that this was a public meeting, right?
Shortly after hearing about this meeting, as KAJO's news director, I made my way over to its location, the luxurious Paradise Ranch in Merlin, Oregon. Other members of the press showed up, including reporter Chris Jones from the local KTVL TV a CBS affiliate, as well as a reporter from NewsWithViews.com, Commissioner candidates Sandi Casanelli and Jack Allen Brown, Attorney Jack Swift of SORA and few members of the public who were curious to see what was being discussed behind those closed doors.
It wasn't long before we were all very politely informed by Bill Leep who introduced himself as co-owner of Paradise Ranch that this was a private meeting by invitation only at a private facility. That last fact had been obvious to all, as a large iron gate near the entrance of Paradise Ranch had a nice, large sign posted informing us of the fact.
The greatest bit of irony, however, is that the parking lot was filled with cars whose license plates declared them publicly owned, be it by the federal or state government.
There, outside the gates of Paradise Ranch, those of us present were left to wonder and guess what exactly was taking place on the other side.
Since only one of the Josephine County Commissioners was present, the gathering was not subjected to Oregon's public meeting laws.
Chris Jones the KTVL TV reporter had apparently found out about the meeting from reading the Jackson County Board of Commissioners' agenda for the day. Jackson County Commissioners posted this meeting on their weekly business agenda. But like the rest of us, Chris was unable to obtain entrance as well.
After the meeting was over, I was able to place a phone call or two to some of the attendees in an attempt to figure out what was going on.
The main topic of discussion was the future funding of county services in Oregon, in the absence of timber receipts or federal payments in lieu of those receipts. This, of course, is an issue affecting every man, woman and child in the state and one of extreme public interest and importance.
The only thing missing from the equation was the media and the public.
Local Attorney Jack Swift said "It would seem difficult to imagine a political topic of more intense public interest than the future of the timber industry and timber revenues in Western Oregon. But whatever was hammered out by our political movers and shakers at this meeting, it was definitely not for public consumption. Such secret enclaves smack of Tammany Hall but tell you definitely what our politicians think of transparency in government, whatever their odd couple alignment."
As a former legislative aide at the state capitol in Salem, I understand that some policy issues and brainstorming sessions must be conducted behind closed doors in order to solicit honest opinions and advice. But as a member of the press and the public, something about this private meeting situation left a very bad taste in my mouth.
It seems that all throughout the U.S., public confidence in government is at an all-time low. All you need to do to reinforce that perception is to talk to the average person.
Every time there's a need for yet another tax increase, government officials do what they can to earn the trust and confidence of voters to try and earn support for their proposals. But when those efforts are crushed at the ballot box, they act as if they have no idea why voters don't trust them or see things their way.
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I hope that in the future, there is more of an effort made to include the public in discussions involving extremely important aspects of public policy. But in the meantime, I guess I'm just stuck outside the gates of Paradise Ranch wondering what my leaders have in store for me and how much this may cost me.
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