“Information is the currency of democracy.” -- Thomas Jefferson
Our City Council could make giant strides in gaining citizen trust and support by following Oregon Open Government laws and properly noticing the secretive Executive Sessions it holds during virtually every City Council Meeting. It would achieve far more from this simple step than from any PR efforts it could make.
Instead, our Councilors hide behind a single line, seen in virtually all the City Council Meeting Agenda’s: “Executive Session pursuant to ORS 192.660 (2) (a through h)”. The minutes of a meeting states something like “Mayor Abernethy called a recess to Executive Session at 6:14 P.M. pursuant to ORS 192.660 (2) (a through h)”. Even during recent joint meeting with the Bend Metro Parks and Recreation Board there was evidently a need for secrecy, so the minutes reflect that “Mayor Abernethy called an Executive Session of both agencies pursuant to ORS 192.660 (2) (a through h) at 7:06 P.M.” A citizen may rightfully wonder what can and must be discussed in secret about our city’s parks. And
Oregon‘s Public Meetings Law, first enacted in 1973, specifically allows Executive Sessions, where the public may be excluded except for media representatives, for certain items. These are the reasons as stated in ORS 192.660(2)(a through h):
(a) To consider the employment of a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent.
(b) To consider the dismissal or disciplining of, or to hear complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual agent who does not request an open hearing.
(c) To consider matters pertaining to the function of the medical staff of a public hospital licensed pursuant to ORS 441.015 to 441.063, 441.085, 441.087 and 441.990 (3) including, but not limited to, all clinical committees, executive, credentials, utilization review, peer review committees and all other matters relating to medical competency in the hospital.
(d) To conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to carry on labor negotiations.
(e) To conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions.
(f) To consider information or records that are exempt by law from public inspection.
(g) To consider preliminary negotiations involving matters of trade or commerce in which the governing body is in competition with governing bodies in other states or nations.
(h) To consult with counsel concerning the legal rights and duties of a public body with regard to current litigation or litigation likely to be filed.
Oregon Open Meetings laws state that Executive Session notice requirements are the same as for all other meetings, which must include a list of principal subjects with enough specificity for citizens to recognize items of interest. In addition, Executive Session notices must include the specific statutory authority for each agenda item discussed in the executive session. This specific statutory authority must be also announced before going into an Executive Session.
Executive Sessions are allowed for only very limited purposes. Deschutes County Commission rarely holds Executive Sessions, while the Bend City Council holds them at virtually every meeting. Even on the subject of ORS 192.660(2)(e), the real estate exemption, the Oregon Attorney General long ago stated that:
‘A governing body may meet in executive session to "conduct deliberations with persons designated by the governing body to negotiate real property transactions." The apparent policy underlying this provision is to permit public bodies to protect their negotiating position in real estate transactions by keeping certain information confidential. This provision does not permit a governing body to discuss long-term space needs or general lease site selection policies in executive session.’
The Bend City Council seems to have gone far beyond these limitations, particularly in its deliberations around Juniper Ridge.
An example of a good notice of an Executive Session is this, from the Newberg City Council Work Session Agenda for October 17, 2005:
“X. EXECUTIVE SESSION
1. Executive Session pursuant to ORS 192.660(2)(d) relating to a real
property transaction – McKillip Property located at
An example of a good record of an Executive Session in the Minutes of a meeting is this, from the Sherwood City Council Meeting of Dec. 11, 2001:
1. Executive Session #1 held pursuant to ORS 192.660 (1) (e) Real Property Transactions and ORS 192.660 (1) (h) Consult with Legal Counsel – Meinecke Road intersection - took place from 6:03 to 6:28 p.m.
2. Executive Session #2 held pursuant to ORS 192.660 (1) (i) Employee Evaluation. – the City Manager six-month review took place from 6:30 to 6:50 p.m.”
Complaints of Executive Session violations may be directed to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, for review, investigation and possible imposition of civil penalties. Members of a governing body may be liable for attorney and court costs both as individuals or as members of group if found in willful violation of the Public Meetings Law. Judy Stiegler of
I have fully documented the use of Executive Sessions back to the Special Meeting resulting in the Les Schwab property sale on December 12, 2006. This includes documentation of Executive Sessions held after regular City Council meetings that were never noticed. I also received a copy of a December 8, 2006 e-mail from the City noticing the December, 12, 2006 Special Meeting after filing an open records request. Yet my contacts with the media representatives that attended said session and a review of the Bend Bulletin from December 8 to December 12 fail to show any record of this email.
The Bend City Council simply does not follow the Oregon Open Meetings law in its constant use of Executive Sessions. I urge the Council to at least conform with and preferably even go beyond the letter of the law, in the manner of the City Councils of our fellow
None of us want to take the next step of filing a complaint with the Ethics Commission.