County Commissioner Pete Sorenson is calling for Lane County to return to being a little more open and available. He sent an email to the county’s agenda team, which determines what items will be dealt with at County Commission meetings, that starts, “I remember a time when the Republican Central Committee, the Democratic Party of Lane County and many other groups would routinely use Harris Hall as a gathering place. I remember a time when the County Administrator (Bill Van Vactor) had a policy of personally responding to media inquiries.” Today, the county has a contracted public relations professional responding to media calls and emails.
The email went to acting administrator Alicia Hays, County Counsel Stephen Dingle, Board Chair Pat Farr and Vice-Chair Faye Stewart. Sorenson brought up the issue at the April 29 commission meeting, and the board agreed to have the agenda team decide whether or when to schedule this item for future board agenda. This does not mean the request will actually come before the board, unless the agenda team schedules it. A new county administrator, Steve Mokrohisky, starts Monday, May 5.
Sorenson says since those times, “the county has radically increased the cost of public records and radically increased the costs to nonprofit organizations to use public spaces for meetings.”
He says that “It’s important that the county recognize the importance of providing public information in a timely fashion and also that the information is provided at a reasonable expense.” Sorenson adds, “Opening up the public buildings to the public for reasonably priced space is vital.”
Lane County once asked former commissioner Rob Handy for more than $2 million in fees to complete a public records requests. At the hearing over that case, which Handy lost, former administrator Liane Inkster said she had never granted a fee waiver for a public records request.
While the cities of Eugene and Springfield have provided terminals where members of the media and of the public can access the emails of elected officials for free, Lane County does not, and charges fees for searching emails in public records requests.
EW asked Farr for comment on when Sorenson’s request will be considered. Farr says, “I will review Commissioner Sorenson’s request at an agenda meeting as early as next week.”