While Lane County’s administrator and conservative board majority moved quickly to release the public records that may have contributed to progressive Commissioner Rob Handy’s defeat in last week’s primary election, the county is dragging its feet on releasing public records relating to the “emergency meeting” it held as well other information surrounding the case.
Handy’s attorney, Marianne Dugan, asked the county to release the public records on May 8. The May 3 emergency meeting was held with less than 24 hours’ notice and the conservative commissioners voted to immediately release public records related to the accusations against Handy.
However Dugan’s own request was denied by Stephen Dingle, the newly hired senior assistant county counsel. He cited an Oregon statute that he says “conditionally exempts the disclosure of criminal investigatory information if it is likely to interfere with a criminal investigation.”
Dugan promptly appealed the denial to the Lane County District Attorney Alex Gardner. Gardener is not only the DA who makes decisions on such public records appeals, but he is also the county counsel.
Dugan wrote in her May 15 appeal to Gardener, “The documents I requested were not ‘compiled for criminal law purposes.’ They were public records about a public meeting and about a public official, which were compiled prior to the criminal investigation being commenced.”
Gardener responded via email that he would have his office research her request and asked “is it your position that the documents in such a case are not protected from disclosure under Oregon’s public records law because they were not ORIGINALLY created in connection with a criminal investigation?”
To which Dugan responded, “Do you have authority for the proposition that a record, once public, can be taken out of the public domain because it is touched by the hand of law enforcement?”
Dugan says she has not yet heard back on whether her records request would go through or how much obtaining the records would cost. In the past, the county has threatened to charge up to $200 per computer searched for email-related public records requests. The city of Springfield has performed similar searches for free.
Dugan says “it seems very weird to me” that the county counsel is also the district attorney who makes decisions on public records requests, “but the statute requires the DA to be the one to address the appeal.”