Cover Oregon makes secret meetings public, won't explain the change

Cover Oregon makes secret meetings public, won't explain the change »Play Video

Cover Oregon is making its legislative oversight committee meetings open to the public 22 months after it’s been holding them behind closed doors. 

The announcement came over the weekend in an email list of all of Cover Oregon’s upcoming public meetings. Cover Oregon isn’t explaining why it changed its mind about the meetings.

KATU News first reported, and questioned last week, whether holding those meetings is against the state’s “Sunshine Laws” or public meetings laws. 

Attorney Duane Bosworth said, “It is plain Oregon law that when you recommend and advise to another public body you are what’s called a ‘governing body’ and you are subject to public meetings laws."

Since Friday, KATU reporter Hillary Lake has been digging into who has oversight over the legislative oversight committee for Cover Oregon. Who serves in that role is unclear to Cover Oregon, and to some legislators, including two lawmakers who serve on the committee.

On Monday, a Cover Oregon spokeswoman, Ariane Holm, refused to answer KATU’s questions in person about who made the decision to suddenly make the next legislative oversight committee meeting public. She did answer questions by email.

Holm wrote to Lake that she didn’t have any more information about the legislative oversight committee meeting. 

Last week Holm said in an email, when asked about the secret meetings: "To our understanding, Cover Oregon doesn't have authority over the structure or membership."

Now, not only is Cover Oregon not answering questions about why its legislative oversight committee meetings are suddenly public, neither is Senate leadership or the governor's office.  A spokesman for Senate President Peter Courtney hasn’t responded to two emails. A spokeswoman for Gov. John Kitzhaber told KATU News she won’t be able to get answers to KATU until Tuesday.

The only hint of accountability comes from the spokesman for the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. He told KATU they're looking into whether Cover Oregon violated the states' "Sunshine Law" every time the meetings weren't made public in the past.

Ultimately, the state counts on the public to help it enforce the public meetings laws. The only way to do that is to file a lawsuit in circuit court.

Had these meetings been open to the public all along, the public—and the media—would have had additional opportunities to serve as watchdogs during the development of the state’s health insurance exchange website. 

Tuesday's legislative oversight committee meeting starts at 10 a.m.  It's a conference call.  Click here to find out how to participate and to read the agenda.

Full coverage of the troubled Cover Oregon website: