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Oregon Audit: State Agencies Struggle With Complex Public Records Requests

M.O. Stevens

State agencies in Oregon struggle to fulfill complex requests for public information. That's one conclusion of an audit released Tuesday by the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

The audit comes about nine months after Governor John Kitzhaber resigned amid an ethics investigation. In the final months of his administration, the governor's office was accused of dragging its feet on records requests filed as journalists looked into a possible influence peddling scandal.

New governor Kate Brown asked for an audit on how state agencies handle records requests. The audit found that the majority are quickly fulfilled. But some complex requests run into obstacles that can take months to resolve. And auditors said there's no standard across state government for how much an agency can charge for staff time or copying fees.

Auditors said this inconsistency can foster suspicion and distrust among the public.

The audit recommends the state establish standard rates for the work involved in tracking down public records. It also suggests the legislature create an ombudsman to mediate records disputes between the public and government officials. And it recommends that state agencies proactively post more information online, so that some records requests aren't needed in the first place.

Governor Brown is scheduled to address a legislative panel Wednesday afternoon to discuss the audit, which looked at public records practices at nine state agencies. The governor's office was not one of them.

Copyright 2015 Northwest News Network

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.