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Judge Rules Against OIPCB In Sierra Club Case
Coos County Circuit Court Judge Paula Bechtold has issued a ruling against the Oregon International Port of Coos Bay on January 25th, in its public records fee waiver case against the Sierra Club.
The Judge ruled that the Port violated both the law and the Sierra Club’s constitutional rights by failing to grant the special interest group a multi-thousand dollar fee waiver. Port CEO David Koch said, “The Port strives to meet its obligations under Oregon’s Public Record laws by adhering to the protocols and guidelines set forth in the Oregon Attorney General’s Public Records and Meetings Manual. The Port also strives to respond to public record requests in a timely, professional and thoughtful manner.”
Oregon Revised Statute (ORS 192.440) allows public agencies to charge reasonable fees for making public records available upon request. ORS 192.440(4)(b) specifically provides that the Port’s fees may include, “the cost of time spent by an attorney for the public body in reviewing the public records, redacting material from the public records or segregating the public records into exempt and nonexempt records.” The bulk of the estimated fee quoted to the Sierra Club was for the expected costs associated with legal review, redaction and segregation of records.
The issue before the Court was not whether the Port was required to release public records, but whether the Port district taxpayers or the Sierra Club should pay for the costs of that special interest group’s far-reaching records request. In this case, Judge Bechtold held that the Port must waive the fees and bear the costs of responding to the request. The Judge also held that the Port violated the Sierra Club’s constitutional rights by requesting documentation to support the special interest group’s claims that granting it a fee waiver was in the public interest. “I am particularly troubled by the court’s finding that the Port’s handling of this matter somehow violated the Constitution,” stated Port CEO Koch. “That was certainly not the Port’s intention, and we are committed to reviewing the Port’s Public Records policies and procedures with outside legal counsel and forwarding any recommended changes to the Port Commission.”