The price of rights

2012-03-05T11:00:00Z 2012-03-05T11:11:30Z The price of rights Coos Bay World
March 05, 2012 11:00 am

Fans of the Sierra Club presumably applauded last week's ruling that lets the group dodge nearly $17,000 in attorney fees. All supporters of open government should join the ovation, whether they like the Sierra Club or not.

We'll begin at the beginning. The Oregon International Port of Coos Bay has been flirting with companies that may want to export coal and natural gas. The Sierra Club, to no one's surprise, disapproves. To learn details of the flirtation, it formally requested copies of relevant letters and memos -- lots of them.

The port, a public agency, is obliged to hand over documents covered by Oregon's public records law. But port officials said much of the documents' content was legally confidential. Separating the publicly disclosable wheat from the confidential chaff requires a sharp-eyed lawyer, and the port argued the Sierra Club should pay for one.

The Sierra Club, contemplating a $20,000 invoice, appealed to a higher authority, Coos County's district attorney. R. Paul Frasier issued his ruling this week. He concluded the Sierra Club owes about $3,300 in copy charges and administrative fees. But the port has to pay its own lawyer.

The reason derives from the philosophy behind Oregon's sunshine laws. A healthy democracy depends on government transparency. Agencies can charge reasonable fees to copy records, but requiring citizens to pay enormous sums defeats the whole notion of openness.

The cost of the Sierra Club's fishing expedition is a little irksome for taxpayers. But what's the alternative? The cost of obeying state law must be the port's responsibility, not the Sierra Club's.

The same is true when a newspaper or an individual citizen requests public records. Otherwise, far fewer public records ever would come to light. Regardless of anyone's motives or political views, the public records law protects all of us.

Copyright 2015 Coos Bay World. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(5) Comments

  1. Kay
    Report Abuse
    Kay - March 07, 2012 4:59 pm
    Kay said: "Sweet, SCDC threatening the District Attorney for working for the people, which is his job?Not too bright Jon."

    That's all I have to say Jon. Why so shy? You aren't shy when begging for more public money, are you?
  2. Sherman
    Report Abuse
    Sherman - March 06, 2012 4:05 pm
    If he was working for the people then he charged the Sierra Club the true cost of securing those documents. Fair is fair. You, Jaye, have been a big advocate of "fairness", so what's the problem?
  3. Kay
    Report Abuse
    Kay - March 06, 2012 3:31 pm
    Sweet, SCDC threatening the District Attorney for working for the people, which is his job?

    Not too bright Jon.
  4. Sherman
    Report Abuse
    Sherman - March 05, 2012 1:43 pm
    You imply that the Port is guilty of having done something wrong and, therefore, should foot the bill for the Sierra Club's annoying intrusions. The cost of "fishing" is the Sierra Club's - not the taxpayer's. Frazier is obviously walking the line that someone in Salem drew for him. Fine, but don't ask the taxpayers to pay for anyone's back-room political games. It would behoove Frazier to remember who he's working for. Otherwise, it may be him that's providing free documents.
  5. Kay
    Report Abuse
    Kay - March 05, 2012 11:39 am
    So does this mean Clark, you intend to inform your readers that the Port of Coos Bay lied last year to get their last half a million of Other Peoples' Money? You splashed the news all over your paper,with photos no less, then when a private citizen demanded facts, the Port admitted such facts were false, there was no emergency at all.

    You failed to inform your readers of the facts, but you're all over the Sierra Club? Why is that Clark? Fair and balanced?
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