The recent confusion over Commissioner Jay Bozievich’s public records request for a list of ballots with signature problems has drawn attention to what many see as an ongoing issue at Lane County: transparency and openness. Commissioner Pete Sorenson has asked the county to resume looking into the way it responds to public records requests as well as into the public’s ability to use county facilities.
Bozievich’s election campaign made a public records request for ballots with challenged signatures on May 27. His challenger, Dawn Lesley, as well as Faye Stewart’s challenger, Kevin Matthews, requested the list directly from the elections office and received it by Friday, May 30, but Bozievich’s campaign did not receive a cost estimate or the list. On Saturday, Bozievich contacted County Administrator Steve Mokrohisky to complain, and County Clerk Cheryl Betschart was soon dispatched to the office to provide the list. Getting the list is allowed under a new change in state law making challenged ballots public.
The county says the records were provided outside of normal hours because the records were needed in a timely fashion and the law is new.
Sorenson says actions like a commissioner getting records on a weekend leads to “the perception at least that those in power get public records quickly.”
Mokrohisky says the county is seeking to “foster an environment of openness and transparency” and is looking into improving access to public records. He tells EW that the county’s public information officer, Anne Marie Levis, has been directed to contact the PIOs of other cities to see how they accommodate records requests. The city of Eugene provides a computer terminal that the media and the public can access and read certain emails directed to the City Council and mayor.
Mokrohisky says the county is looking to “balance the needs of the public and the media” with the need to keep certain types of records, such as personnel issues, confidential.
Sorenson says that in addition to his concern over public records, he has asked the county commissioner’s agenda team to look into “accessibility to various buildings and public spaces.” He says, “I think when the government pays to have conference rooms and spaces built and use them for roughly one-third of the time, and there are other times those spaces can be used at nominal cost to the public.”
Sorenson says that before Liane (Richardson) Inkster, the previous administrator, changed the policy on use of county facilities, the public used areas like Harris Hall and meeting rooms more often. According to a June 2 letter from Lane County’s capital projects manager Brian Craner to Mokrohisky, there is a one time a month usage restriction, which can be waived, a $150 nonrefundable security deposit and a $350 refundable deposit to use Harris Hall’s AV equipment, plus $100 per microphone.
Craner wrote that the county’s facilities committee “found no compelling reason to propose any revisions” regulating the use of Harris Hall and the county’s Public Service Building conference and meeting rooms.
Mokrohisky says he wants to look at the issue holistically and identify spaces and times that they aren’t needed for city and county meetings to allow groups that provide some kind of public benefit to have a place to meet. He says this could also benefit the county, for example, by increasing patronage at Café 125, which is in the Public Service Building and under new management.
Sorenson says, “Barriers have been erected that need to come down.”