The Eugene City Council is readying for another public forum on the Downtown Public Safety Zone, often called the downtown exclusion zone, in advance of an Oct. 8 vote on whether to renew it. Occupy Eugene police liaisons and attorney Lauren Regan of the Civil Liberties Defense Center say the Eugene Police Department stonewalled their public records request until the last minute. Now the EPD is suggesting that the city pay $15,000 for legal representation for the accused rather than do away with the exclusion ordinance. The council could renew the law or allow it to expire on its sunset date, Nov. 30.
Jean Stacey says she and fellow Occupy Eugene police liaison Michael Carrigan went directly to EPD Chief Pete Kerns in April 2012 after police representatives responded to attempts to get public records beginning in fall 2011 with incomplete information. “The only way we knew it was incomplete was because we had taken photographs of tickets that had been issued that were not on the report,” Stacey says.
Kerns agreed to appoint a police liaison to help acquire the records “in a way that is timely, contextual and responsive,” Stacey says. But while Stacey says Occupy submitted an official records request in April, she says the request was lost at least twice and not turned in until June 8. Stacey says that three months after she submitted the request, an EPD records representative told her that the request could not be addressed until she provided the EPD records representative with the boundaries of the DPSZ and the date it began.
A representative for EPD responded to a request for comment with a written statement, which says, “We routinely respond to public records requests with a well-established process. Eugene Police Department received a request on April 14, 2012, that did not go through this process, but was instead made to the chief, who does not handle public records requests. Two weeks later, the chief assigned an EPD staff member to be the designated point of contact for any public records requests from OE.” The statement goes on to say that Occupy representatives were at times unavailable and that there was further delay until a fee waiver was completed. The statement continues, “Due to the time lag in OE providing the supportive data for the fee waiver request, the data was stale and had to be regenerated so that it was accurate. The documents were emailed to OE on Sept. 7.”
Regan of the CLDC says the difficulty of acquiring the records is a travesty to the public process because the public records act is supposed to be easily used by citizens in a timely fashion, “and when they are completely tooled from using that process so that they have to rely on a lawyer to get involved in order to coerce the records out of the public agency, that too is just a total breach of public trust and is a total violation of the Oregon public records act.”
Regan and Stacey are calling on the council to refuse to vote on the DPSZ until they are able to analyze the data. Without complete data, Stacey says, any discussions that the councilors have are “blind discussions.”
Regan says that 5 pm on a Friday before a Monday, Sept. 10, council work session is not enough time to perform an adequate analysis of the data. “It’s hundreds of pages of stuff. It’s literally put in some search terms into a computer program and hit enter,” Regan says. “There’s no reason that that couldn’t have been done five months ago.”
Stacey says the lack of presentation of the voided exclusion requests making up 35 percent of the data and the use of “storytelling” after councilors requested data “make one very curious” about the delayed disclosure.
“It just seems like a set-up — it just sounds like an absolute circumvention of any kind of public participation in this process and it clearly smacks of the EPD having significant reason to be hiding the facts that are underlying the DPSZ data,” Regan says.
The council public hearing on the DPSZ is at 7:30 pm Monday, Sept. 17, in the Public Library’s Bascom-Tyson Room.