PORTLAND, Ore. - In Oregon, public records are open to everyone and in many cases are free.
|Oregon's public record laws are supposed to be some of the most open in the country. The costs have to be reasonable and should be waived when there is a great public interest in the documents.|
So when KATU received a quote of $1.5 million from the city to pull public records from Mayor Sam Adams' office, you can imagine the sticker shock.
It all started weeks ago when the mayor issued a public apology over the scandal involving his relationship with a young intern. During the press conference, KATU requested Adams' phone, calendar and e-mail records from the spring of 2005, when the then city commissioner was developing a relationship with 17-year-old Beau Breedlove.
"I think the Willamette Week and the Oregonian have asked for those already, so they're around already," Adams said.
The next day, Adams' spokesman requested that a public records request be filled out. After a few additions and a month of calling and e-mailing, KATU received estimates totaling more than $1.5 million (before attorney fees) to pull the public records.
On Wednesday, we asked Adams about the massive fee. He did not seem surprised when we told him about the quote, saying the city must recoup costs for collecting public records. According to the Office of Management and Finance, it would take a single employee 10 years to get the records.
After talking with him further, Adams did finally agree that the charge seemed excessive but said he played no part in it.
"That's done by the city attorney's office and the Office of Management and Finance," he said.
When we pointed out that the Office of Management and Finance was one of his bureaus, Adams said "I'm completely separate from the decisions they make on this matter, as you might imagine."
After KATU started asking questions about the $1.5 million estimate for a public records search, we got a new estimate from the city for a narrower search. This time the estimate was for $194.03.
KATU has yet to receive any of the public records we requested even though it has been weeks since we first began the process.