public records


Oregon prides itself on being an open-government state, with public information easily obtained by the public.  Journalists can and will tell you that the reality is not quite so transparent. 

But the state now has a Public Records Advocate and a Public Records Advisory Council; PRAC just released results of its first-ever survey of state and local governments about their public records requests and practices. 

The response rate was high, but responses were not mandated by law. 


Sunshine Week sounds like something related to the arrival of spring, but it's really the other kind of sunshine: that kind that shines on the work of government.  Or should, in theory. 

But journalists and other people interested in the workings of government often find themselves stuck in gaps in laws regulating public records and public meetings.  Like in 2011, when two Oregonian reporters launched a criminal investigation into the Solar by Degrees program that led to $13 million — and counting — being returned to the state of Oregon. That's the power of public records.

The Oregon Territory Society of Professional Journalists pushes for changes in state law to allow more sunshine. 


People may talk in ominous terms of "the government," but the government does the business of the people.  So there's a general sense that the workings of government should be open to the people. 

The reality can be a lot trickier to navigate, especially when it comes to public records.  Ginger McCall is Oregon's Public Records Advocate, just on the job since earlier this year, and her first report shows some problems with public records.  Those include a lot of confusion about the system and how it is supposed to work. 


"Transparency" is the term often used to describe a government in which the workings are visible and open to the public. 

Which is how things are supposed to be in America.  But even places that profess to believe in transparency can throw up obstacles. 

Oregon passed a major public records law decades ago, then passed many exemptions to that law. 

Now the 2017 legislature has produced four new laws that should affirm the primacy of openness in government. 

It impressed the state's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

Wing-Chi Poon, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Sunshine Week leads us straight into spring, but it's really not about the sun shining in the sky. 

Sunshine Week celebrates openness in government--the metaphorical sun shining into the workings of the people's business. 

Every year, the celebrations are tempered by news of public records withheld or meetings held out of view of the media. 

Open Oregon and other groups monitor the state of government transparency in the state. 

Electronic Freedom Foundation

Let the sun shine!  Sunshine Week celebrates the public's right to know the business of government... and observes the uneven delivery of the goods by various governments. 

The messes and mistakes of government transparency are celebrated (tongue-in-cheek) by the Electronic Frontier Foundation's "Foilies."

Entities from the president to the sheriff of Milwaukee County ended up on the list this year. 

Celebrating Sunshine Week In Humboldt

Mar 17, 2016

Sunshine Week is observed by news organizations, mostly; organizations celebrating public access to public information. 

Humboldt County put its own spin on Sunshine Week; encouraging people to get more involved in the community. 

The major push came from the local chapter of the League of Women Voters, part of its effort to boost participation and volunteerism. 

Opening Up To Celebrate Sunshine Week

Mar 18, 2015

Let the sun shine in.  And in this case, we refer to the sun metaphorically. 

This is "Sunshine Week" across the country, the week journalists and other lovers of public documents and meetings celebrate successes in putting and keeping the public's business before the public eye. 

It's not always easy... even when documents are considered part of the public record, public agencies often put up either a fight or a high price to obtain those documents. 

Newspapers And The Shining Of Light

Mar 17, 2014
Ed Schipul

Let the sun shine! 

This week is Sunshine Week across the country, a chance to observe and celebrate the laws and efforts that keep much of the workings of government open to the people. 

Public Records, But Not For Public Employees

Jan 6, 2014

How best to teach budding journalists the uses of public records laws? 

Request public records.  That's what student media advisor Kate Willson did at Oregon State University.