Gov. Kate Brown has appointed the publisher of the Malheur Enterprise to a new state council dealing with public records.
Les Zaitz, who also serves as editor of the Enterprise, was named Monday to serve on the state Public Records Advisory Council. His appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate in September. He is the only appointee from eastern Oregon.
Brown proposed formation of the council as part of her effort to improve transparency of government in Oregon. The council will work with a new public records advocate concerning disputes over access to government records and with training government officials on duties under the state’s public records law.
The law allows citizens access to most documents held by state and local agencies. Certain records generally are kept confidential, such as personnel matters and medical records.
Zaitz, an Oregon journalist for more than 40 years, has long been involved in public records matters. He served on a state task force in 1998 that reviewed the state law, and last year served on a public records task force appointed by Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
He recently led the Enterprise’s efforts to force release of state records related to Tony Montwheeler, a former state hospital patient who has been accused of aggravated murder, kidnapping, and assault. Based on a petition submitted by the Enterprise, Rosenblum ordered a state agency to release its files on Montwheeler.
Instead of disclosing the records, the state Psychiatric Security Review Board sued the Enterprise to block release. Brown stepped in and directed the board to drop the suit and obey Rosenblum’s order.
“The right to see government records is crucial to a citizen’s ability to see exactly what government is doing,” Zaitz said. “This law is not a special deal for the media, but a tool for everyone to use.”
Zaitz said he hopes the new council and the public records advocate can diminish conflicts between government officials and those who want to look at public files. Such conflicts, he said, can be costly and erode trust in government.
Brown appointed two other journalists to the new council – Steve Suo, investigations editor at The Oregonian and Liz van der Voo, managing director of InvestigateWest.
Others appointed to the council include Shirin Khosravi, an attorney for Service Employees International Union Local 503, which represents state employees; Rob Bovett, former district attorney now with the Association of Oregon Counties; Scott Winkels of the League of Oregon Cities; and Mark Landauer with the Special Districts Association of Oregon; and Tony Hernandez, former reporter at The Oregonian now with the Oregon Environmental Council.
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