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Podcast: Advocating for Public Records with Ginger McCall

Posted on February 21, 2020


Ginger McCall GovLove

Ginger McCall

Ginger McCall
Former Public Records Advocate
State of Oregon
LinkedIn | Twitter


Improving transparency in government. Ginger McCall, the former Oregon Public Records Advocate, joined the podcast to talk about her time in the State of Oregon and the importance of providing transparency to the public. She discussed the events that led to her resignation and keeping the public records advocate independent. Ginger also shared best practices for providing public records and how local governments can meet the needs of requesters.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Learn More

The Oregon Senate Moves Toward Greater Government Transparency By Approving More Independent Public Records Advocate

Oregon Senate Approves Bill Making Public Records Advocate Independent from Governor’s Office

Former Oregon Public Records Advocate: Keep Pushing For Independence

Oregon Public Records Advocate On Why She’s Resigning

Oregon’s Public Records Advocate Tenders Surprise Resignation

Oregon’s Public Records Czar Abruptly Resigns After Just 18 Months on the Job, Cites “Abuse of Authority”

Final Report of Ginger McCall Oregon Public Records Advocate


Episode Transcript

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government.

 

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Kirsten Wyatt

I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co-founder and executive director and today I’m talking to Ginger McCall, the former Public Records Advocate for Oregon. Ginger, welcome to GovLove.

 

Ginger McCall

Thank you very much for having me.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

On today’s episode we’ll learn from Ginger about how public records, local government transparency and independence relate to local government and more. But first, we’ll get started with one of our signature lightning rounds. Ginger, what is your most controversial non-political opinion?

 

Ginger McCall

Wow, is there such a thing as a non-political opinion these days? I would say it’s probably that I really hate Apple products. The only Apple thing that I would like to buy is their stock.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Wow. Alright. And so where do you listen to your podcast? It’s not through the iTunes Store.

 

Ginger McCall

I have Spotify. Yeah. So I just I have a Samsung phone and I have Spotify. And, you know, I’ve never thought to myself when I looked at my Samsung phone, you know what this phone shouldn’t have? A headphone jack. [Laughter] So yeah, I mean, that was a decision by Apple that just kind of cemented my opinion that Apple was interested in selling you lots of their products for no particular reason. And it’s a highly proprietary, you know device market. So I’ll stick with devices that actually I can use my regular headphones in.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

All right. So I’m wondering if you have a similarly strong opinion about this next question. What is your favorite font.

 

Ginger McCall

You know, I really like Book Antiqua.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay, that’s a, that’s a good classic font. And then what was the very first concert you ever attended?

 

Ginger McCall

The very first concert I went to was the first Lilith Fair with my dad, actually.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Wow! Who was the headliner that year?

 

Ginger McCall

Sarah McLachlan.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Okay.

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, it was her project, Sarah McLachlan. I was a huge I remained a huge Sarah McLachlan fan.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And didn’t the Indigo Girls, weren’t they a part of that initial…

 

Ginger McCall

They were. And Jewel and Sheryl Crow. And yeah, I mean, it was a huge concert to be able to go to and see, you know, all of these 90s headlining acts all in one place.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

I think we’re dating ourselves. [Laughter] So I remember always wanting to go to that festival. So now I’m already jealous of you. Alright, so let’s dive in and talk about your work. And can you share with our listeners more about you and your background?

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, so I am an attorney by training. I graduated law school in the very inauspicious year of 2009, which was not a great year to be graduating law school, there were not a lot of jobs to be had. But I was very fortunate. And I got a job at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, where I started to do Freedom of Information Act requests. And those Freedom of Information Act requests were to forward EPIC’s privacy related policy programs. So EPIC does a lot of work on national security and privacy and consumer protection in the privacy realm. And so we were often using Freedom of Information Act request to get government documents about secret government surveillance programs, new surveillance technologies. And then part of my job was taking those documents out to the press and making the public aware of what the government was up to, and then also following up with sort of policy initiatives around those sorts of surveillance tools and programs. So I did that for about five years. And then I thought that it might be interesting to go and work for the government and see the other side of things. So I had been filing Freedom of Information Act lawsuits FOIA lawsuits on the plaintiffs side. And then I took a job in the US Department of Labor where I was defending the government in FOIA lawsuits. So it was really interesting to see from the inside the kinds of challenges that government has. The Department of Labor, the US Department of Labor is a fairly well funded, well staffed agency. But still there were a lot of challenges meeting the deadlines in the federal FOIA. It is a 20 business day deadline, like Oregon’s Public Records law, and the agency just had a lot of challenges. It was a decentralized agency. We would have to reach out to our remote offices in different parts of the country and try to get them to search for records in response to a public records request. So that was a real challenge. The technology was a real challenge. You know, we didn’t have really great email search tool. Email is a huge challenge in public records. And so we didn’t have all the best tools at hand and it just, I got to see all of those challenges from the inside and how you know, even if folks on the agency are working really hard to comply with the law, there are still a lot of hurdles. So from there, I was fortunate to be offered this opportunity to be Oregon’s first public records advocate. So I moved across the country from Washington DC to take this job. And I spent a year and a half as Oregon’s first public records advocate. Now I’ve returned to DC where I’m, again working in the federal government on FOIA and information law topics.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And what was the impetus for the creation of the Public Records Advocate position?

 

Ginger McCall

So it’s my understanding that this position came out, it came out as part of a sort of group of public records related reforms that were the result of the resignation of Governor Kitzhaber. And the purpose of this office was to provide public records related mediation and public records related training and also to leave the Public Records Advisory Council embedding and proposing further reforms for public records law.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And for our listeners who aren’t familiar with Governor Kitzhaber, and what happened in that case, a quick summation of, of why the creation of that position was so important post Kitzhaber years.

 

Ginger McCall

So, I wasn’t in Oregon when any of this happened. So I’m sort of relating details third hand. But Governor Kitzhaber and his fiancée, I guess his fiancée had some outside projects, and she was making money related to those projects, had connections related to those projects. And those projects were, you know, making money through the governor and his office in government contracts. And this, a lot of these transactions occurred in email, which Governor Kitzhaber was apparently using his personal email for government business, which first of all, for all of you government folks is a big no no, I know lots of public officials do it. But most of them end up regretting it. So he was using his personal email to conduct government business and part of that government business was arguably corruption. So the personal email was being backed up by the Oregon Department of Justice. And at one point when they started to receive public records requests on this, apparently Governor Kitzhaber asked the Oregon Department of Justice to go back and delete his emails, which is also a big no, no. That’s a violation of the public records law. So you know, there were a lot of, there were a lot of public records issues entangled in this scandal.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And how was the reception when you first took this position? And what was kind of the reaction you got from people at all levels of government, once they realized that, you know, this concerted position was focused on this important topic?

 

Ginger McCall

I think people were really excited. I mean, I gave a lot of trainings while I was there, I think I trained like almost 2000 people while I was in Oregon. You know, people were very happy to have free public records training. Most government officials just really wanted to understand the law and what they could do as a best practice under the law and how they could do public records better. So I mean, I found a lot of enthusiasm on the government side, and also a lot of enthusiasm on the public side. I definitely got the sense that this was, this public records mediation was also a really important function. And I will tell you that a lot of our mediation requests or requests for assistance were also from government folks who just wanted answers to questions about the law or wanted some help with a difficult request, or I think that in my time there I the office handled almost 200 requests for assistance. So yeah, I mean, at one point, we were getting a request a new request for assistance every single day. I would see people were really enthusiastic about it, and it was serving, it does serve a very necessary function.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Right. Well, and I’m sure that a huge reason you were hired was because you had sat on both sides of the desk like you had been, obviously someone who had been looking for information and for records, and then obviously someone fulfilling those requests. Did you feel like that experience came through, as you were working in that role?

 

Ginger McCall

Definitely. I think it allowed me to empathize with folks both on the requester side and on the government side. I think that it made the trainings that I gave more balanced. Understanding really, like, viscerally what the challenges are that public bodies face in processing public records request was really helpful, but also understanding the very real frustration that a public records request or just an ordinary citizen might feel when they’re making these requests, and they feel that they’re being ignored. I think that, that was really beneficial in being able to fulfill the functions of the office.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So the reason that I wanted to talk with you today and that you caught my attention was from a series of tweets as all good ELGL things start, it’s on Twitter. And it was a series of tweets between you and some members of the press here in Oregon, about some legislation and some proposed changes to the governing body for public records. Can you share with us more about what was being proposed and kind of the status of that, of that change as of today?

 

Ginger McCall

So, in case it’s not apparent from the questions and the answers that I’ve already given you about this job, I mean, this really was a job that I was very passionate about. I feel like it served me central role in government. And it was pretty much my dream job. I mean, there was a reason I moved across the country for this, and I do feel that public records is my life’s work. So you know, as you can guess, by the fact that I’m answering these questions in the past tense, I have left this job and I left it after only a year and a half. And the reason that I left this job was not because I wanted to leave this job, but because I ended up having to resign in protest because I was the subject of pretty intense political interference by members of the staff and the governor’s office. I was summoned to a series of meetings with the governor’s staff, in which they told me that, you know, contrary to the public representations and the representations to me and the legislature that the office was supposed to be independent, they told me that instead I was supposed to be working for the governor’s office, I was supposed to represent their point of view on the public records Advisory Council, even to the point of undermining the proposals of that Council, and that I was supposed to be a member of the team. And again, this was very surprising to me, because I had been told that this was an independent office, there were things put in the legislation specifically to bolster the independence of this office. It had been presented to the public and the press as being independent by the governor herself. So I was pretty shocked by these meetings. And the thing that was most troubling to me about the meetings was that at the end of the first meeting, I was told that I wasn’t to tell anyone that I was working for the governor’s office. Specifically, I was told not to tell the members of the press which put me in a super awkward position because at that point, I reported to the public records Advisory Council which included several members of the press. So I was basically put in the position of carrying water for an elected official. But I wasn’t supposed to publicly acknowledge that, that was what I was doing. So which I felt was unethical. So in the end, I had the choice between either resigning the position, or making what I felt was an unethical misrepresentation to the council and to the public about who I worked for. So I resigned. And as you probably know, the press in Oregon is very diligent. They quickly made a public records request for my letters of resignation. And then they made public records requests for any kind of documentation of the meetings that were mentioned in those in that letter of resignation. And I had pretty detailed memos about those meetings that I had with the governor’s staff. So those came out and then the story just kind of took off. And in the end, the Public Records Advisory Council convened and put together a proposal that would ensure the independence of the public records advocate so that no other person is going to have to face the sort of difficult situation that I faced. And hopefully, this office will then regain the public trust that it had before. So that piece of legislation was introduced in the short session. And it’s SB 1506. It went to the general government committee on the Senate side for a hearing on Monday. And there was actually an amazing amount of testimony, both written testimony and in person testimony in favor of the piece of legislation. That legislation will officially declare that the office is an independent office, it will set up a hiring scheme so that the advocate will be selected by and report to the Public Records Advisory Council explicitly, and it will empower the council to propose legislation on its own, so through a member of the legislature. So I mean, I think these are all really important independence reforms. So it was with the General Government Committee, there was a hearing on Monday. There has been a fiscal attached to it, that committee sent it back for a reassessment of the fiscal. And then today, once the fiscal was mostly clear, they went ahead and sent it on to to the floor of the Senate for a vote with a do pass recommendation, which is really good news.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And the League of Oregon cities, notably, is opposing the bill and actively lobbying against it. And I want to get to that in a minute. But, but if possible, and and I don’t want you to have to speculate, but but what changed from the creation of this office to then wanting it to be a political position? I mean, was there anything that that you saw or that you sensed, and especially if it could be a like cautionary or learning tale for other government officials who are serving in public records advocacy type roles?

 

Ginger McCall

Hmm, I mean, I would, I would be speculating. I think there were a couple of things that factored into this situation. I think that just, it is entirely possible that the staff and the governor’s office were acting without the Governor’s express direction on this. And it’s possible that they just overreached, that they thought, you know, they wanted to have control over this office and and didn’t really think through what the implications of that would be for the governor, especially since the governor herself, it seems like she was in favor of the independence of this office. So I think that’s possible. I think that there are a couple of things that may be factored into that. There was a piece of legislation that the Public Records Advisory Council proposed during the last long legislative session. And that would have created basic annual reporting requirements about public records processing by state agencies. So state agencies would have to report every year how many requests they received, how long it was taking them to process those requests, and how many requests for a fee waiver or reduction they granted and denied. Very, very basic information that should have been easy for them to gather. And what I was told specifically in these meetings by the governor’s staff was that the governor’s staff were not happy about that bill. They wanted me to, to to have killed it when the Public Records Advisory Council was discussing it. They didn’t like it, they didn’t like that it exempted the locality, because that made it a sure bet that it was going to pass in the legislature. Because a lot of lobbying happened. The League of Oregon cities is very active. And they lobby hard against things and they often win. So I think that the governor’s office told me expressly that they were upset that the localities were exempted, because it meant that then the governor would be in the awkward position of having to oppose this bill, instead of counting on the localities to run interference. And that you know, I should have thought of that, and I should have killed this when it came before the council. So I think that, that was part of what factored into this situation that they were unhappy about that particular bill.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And then looking today at the opposition by the League of Oregon cities, share with us and explain to our listeners why a city’s advocacy organization would be against SB 1506?

 

Ginger McCall

You know, that’s actually a mystery to me. {Laughter] You know this, this issue of independence, it was the League of Oregon cities has a representative on the public records Advisory Council. He had the opportunity to vet his idea before the Council. The council said definitively that they wanted this office to be independent and they shut down his arguments to the contrary. He took the amendment before them and also the council seemed to really not like the amendment. I mean, the amendment essentially would gut the council’s proposal. It eliminates the independence provisions and in fact weakens the council and the advocate. It takes the advocates voting spot on the council away from the advocate, which seems like it’s actually a punishment for my resignation. It is a mystery to me why the League of Oregon cities would be pushing this. I mean, I have heard anecdotally from some folks in the requester community that they call their cities and ask their cities about this and the cities said that they knew nothing about and weren’t in favor of this amendment. Apparently what came out at the hearing on Monday was that the League of Oregon cities hadn’t actually taken a vote on this amendment. So there was never a vote of the members in favor of pushing this amendment. I mean, in the end, it seems like the amendment is probably out for now. Like I said, the committee passed the original bill as the council had proposed it, and they passed it with a do pass recommendation to the Senate floor. So I don’t think that the amendment will come back, but it could potentially in the House, but I mean, all of the public sentiment, all of the sentiment from the public records Advisory Council, all of the sentiment from the media was that this amendment was just, it had no real purpose other than obstruction and it was not going to actually do anything to remedy the situation that I had been in. So yeah, I mean, I like I said, it remains a mystery to me why they’re pushing this.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, it makes me wonder if it was almost like a preventative measure where they thought they might be correcting something down the road that might potentially be happening. But that seems like there’s a lot of speculation that they’d have to make to get to that point.

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, possibly. And I mean, the independence provisions for the office, so if the public records advocate is independent, it doesn’t give the advocate any additional power vis-a-vis the cities. Right now, the way that the legislation works is that cities don’t have to participate in mediation. The advocate can’t force a city to participate in mediation, it’s just voluntary, and this doesn’t change that it doesn’t change anything about the advocate’s relationship with the cities. It doesn’t change anything about the advocate’s power. I mean, the advocate has no actual power. The advocate can’t order anyone to do anything, can’t force a public body to pay a fine or to waive a fee. The only power that the advocate has is just the public trust and the trust that the government and the requester community put in the advocate to help them solve their problem. So yeah, it’s strange to me that they were opposing it so vehemently.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well after this next break, I want to talk to you about these concepts of trust and public access and public records. But before we get to that, I just want to remind our listeners that ELGL is conducting our first ever listener survey for GovLove. This podcast has grown so much over the years and we want to get listener feedback about everything from our sound quality to our hosts to the topics and more. We’ll use this information on the survey to inform our decision making about the podcast and ways that we can improve. And so please head over to GovLovesurvey.com to take the very brief survey. And again that’s GovLovesurvey.com

 

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Hey GovLove listeners. We’re fundraising to support the podcast that you love. Right now ELGL’s accepting donations. They’ll be used to take GovLove to the next level. And if supporting GovLove isn’t enough for you, one of the rewards as part of this campaign is a shout out on the podcast read by me, GovLove producer Ben Kittelson. Today we have a shout out from umm four different people that have submitted and supported GovLove, and so here they are. First up, Abby Owens, her shout out she writes, I love this podcast. I have learned so much across the many episodes. It’s a must listen for anyone to learn about local government and its impact on people’s lives. RJ Cisco wrote, this donation is dedicated to all the people listening who identify as innovators, creators, and problem solvers, carving out a space in local government to welcome more people like us from all backgrounds. We are making it happen and we’re stronger as a team. Couldn’t agree more RJ. Emily Gibson writes, I look forward to each new episode because GovLove highlights all aspects of local government and the work we do in a positive way, even when the topics are difficult. William Darfur writes, I’d like to dedicate my modest contribution to all the practitioners who take the time to share their expertise and love of local government with the world. And thank you guys all so much for your support, and especially to Abby, RJ, Emily and William for donating to the GovLove campaign. For our listeners that are interested in donating and want to learn more and support the GovLove, you can find out more at elgl.org.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And now back to our conversation with Ginger. I want to zoom out more globally to talk about local government and public records and transparency. And, and, you know, I think to get started, let’s talk about what local government gets right. Because as you’ve experienced, you know, throughout your career, there can be those situations where there are very challenging community members or situations where records requests can get very, very cumbersome. There are other times where government is not doing the right thing and they’re not sharing as openly and as freely as they should. So I’d love to hear some perspectives about some of the best practices that you recommend, especially to cities and counties and districts as it relates to public records.

 

Ginger McCall

So I mean, by and large, I would say what local governments are doing right is almost everything almost all of the time. I mean, I think 95% of the time, the people that I interacted with who were working in local government were dedicated public servants. They wanted to be helpful. They wanted to do a good job. They took pride in doing a good job and serving the public. I mean, I think, you know, that, that piece that wanting to have good customer service is really the most important piece and that was something that I emphasized in every one of my trainings. Really what the trainings were about, I mean it was a training on the substance of the public records law. Yes. But as far as best practices, best practices are good communication. Good communication is the most important best practice in public records processing. You know, if you get an overbroad request, picking up the phone and calling the requester and having a conversation with them know, what is it that you’re actually looking for? How can I help you get the documents that you want? If you’re looking at a request and you know, you might have to assess a couple hundred dollars of fees, picking up the phone and calling the requester and saying, you know, your request is very broad. Right now it looks like it’s going to cost a couple of hundred dollars to fulfill it. How can we narrow this in a way that’s going to save you money and save us time? You know, it’s the importance of good communication, which I think a lot of people are already doing on the ground. I think that most public servants have the right attitude. And there’s a reason that they went into government work. So I think that’s what’s going right most of the time in most of the places.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And then, you know, when situations were going poorly or when you were having to kind of you know, mediate these disputes over records, was there one thing that was happening that was wrong or that was improper that could have been corrected or, or did it come down to sometimes personalities and issues and the volume of records and things like that?

 

Ginger McCall

I think that the most common breakdown again, with failures of communication, especially people communicating via email instead of picking up the phone and calling. I think that’s the most common problem. But I did see occasionally there were, you know, there were very few bad actors, but the few bad actors that were bad were very bad. You know, it was an, it was an attitude problem, a sort of my own little fiefdom type attitude toward, toward government. And I think that results in a real degradation of trust between the public and the government. You know, it only takes one bad interaction with a government employee, unfortunately for the public to lose that trust. So, you know, in those instances, I saw that people were being overcharged for fees, or I saw that, you know, public officials were taking advantage of a provision in the law that allows for you know, no appeal. If you’re, if you send your request to an elected official and the elected official makes a decision on the request or an elected official reaches out and says those are my documents and kind of takes over the decision, that takes away the person’s intermediate appeals right. And the only option they have to review of the decision of that elected official is to go to court, which most people can’t do. I did see abuses of those provisions. It was rare, but it does happen. And I think that when that happens, it really degrades the public trust and sort of set forth, sets up a relationship of animosity between requesters and government.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Right. Well, and how does media relations play into all of this? And again, you know, that was what triggered me in wanting to think about this more deeply on GovLove is, is hearing from some of our journalist friends. But how does Media Relations and really having somebody who knows how to work with the press factor in to having a really good, open transparent government?

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, I mean, I think media relations is a huge piece of it, and having someone who likes to work with the media, who has a good attitude, an attitude of public service, of customer service, is usually super important for having a good having good relationships between the government and the public. And I mean, public records are just one piece of that, obviously. But I mean, I think, you know, working and having an attitude that doesn’t foster cynicism in the public is really important, especially right now.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Exactly. So talk to us about technology. And you mentioned this a bit at the start, but how has technology and the ability to tie public records into technology systems, how has it affected your role or and your advocacy for open government? Um, is it making it better, or is it making it worse?

 

Ginger McCall

So I think that technology creates additional challenges for public records processing, but it also creates additional solutions. So the challenges obviously are in the proliferation of electronic records. You know, email is a new thing as of, you know, 25-30 years ago. It used to be people would pick up the phone, call each other, maybe they would write a written memorandum that would be printed out. But, you know, the way that we communicate now is primarily over email. So we’re generating a lot of additional public records. And we’re generating those records in a way that often isn’t so well organized, you know, and the technology for email search, the technology that most people have access to, not fancy e discovery tools. But what most people have just an Outlook search is not so great. I don’t know if you’ve tried to search your Outlook inbox for something recently. But I have to do it a lot because I’m in the government and boy, is it a pain, you know, and it’s not nearly as good of a search as I would hope for. So I mean, I think that the proliferation of electronic records really creates some unique challenges. There are a lot more records to sift through now than there were 40 years ago. But I also think that there are new tools that are being invented that can really help with that search and they can make searches and processing more efficient. E discovery tools, archiving tools. The state archives in Oregon offers a thing called RMS, which is a very useful archiving tool that has a lot of good search functions. And that’s offered at a pretty low cost, I think, to localities as well as state agencies. So I mean, these kinds of tools are very helpful. And they can really improve public bodies ability to search through this massive electronic records.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

And so if you could wave a magic wand and fix if you will, open records for your requests, attitudes, customer service, all of these things that we’ve talked about, where would you start? And what would you recommend to our listeners who have been thinking about how they improve or better operations in their local government?

 

Ginger McCall

So the place where I would start, I think, is with communication. And this was something again, that I emphasized in my trainings to government. But it was also something that I emphasized in my trainings to requestors, the importance of good communication, you know, coming into this process with a good attitude in a way that you’re operating in good faith. So, you know, picking up the phone and having a conversation with the person on the other end. And you know, on the government side that again, looks like if you’re looking at a broad request, if you’re looking at a lot of fees, picking up the phone and calling the requester, and really trying to get at the core of what it is that they want from this request. If you’re on the requester side, you know, the requestor side of that is understanding that the person who’s processing your public records request is not an evil nefarious villain in a movie. You know, that person is probably an overworked underfunded public servant. They want to help you. That person is also probably not invested in whatever the decision is, the controversial decision is that you’re trying to get information about and that person often doesn’t even have physical custody of the records that you’re looking for. They’re probably going to have to reach out like I used to have to do, to some other official within their agency who probably gets paid more than them and ask that person to search their email and search their computer for the documents that are responsive to their request. So I mean, I think it’s just that sort of it’s empathy really I mean, it’s empathy and understanding the other person’s position and coming up and with a good attitude. I think that’s really key on both sides of this equation. So I mean, that’s the first piece. And that’s the piece that we can all do something about. I think legislative fixes, I would want to fix fees because I think fees are a huge hurdle to requestor access. I mean fees can often be quite high. And one piece of that is under the, under the FOIA, the federal public records law, there are three categories of requesters and news media requesters are sort of a favored category. And they don’t usually have to pay fees under the federal FOIA. I would make that sort of a law of the land in Oregon too, where news media requestors, requestors who are requesting in the public interest, there’s a default presumption that they’re not going to be paying fees unless they’re making a very broad request. Because that’s the other piece of this is that there are some folks on the requestor side who are, the term of art for this is, a vexatious requestor. Folks who have an axe to grind, folks who make repeated and very broad requests and take up way more of the government resources than they should be entitled to take up. So I think we have to do something about that. And, you know, fees are an important piece of that. Now, we want to ensure that people’s incentives are aligned in a good way, you know, so that if someone is going to make a very broad request, then they should have to pay for that. And, you know, if they’re paying for that, then they’re going to be incentivized to narrow the request. So I think making a provision where a news media and public interest requestors don’t generally have to pay fees, you know, for the first couple hundred or, you know, a couple thousand pages of documents, I think would, you know, be a good balance for that. But the other piece of fixing the fees question is that we have to fix the government resources question. You know a lot of politicians talk a good game about how much they care about public records. But at the end, usually they’re not allocating more public funding for public records processing.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Exactly.

 

Ginger McCall

If the government has to pay for its staff somewhere and if it’s getting a lot of public records requests, those are either going to be funded by fees taken from the public or they’re going to be funded by funds that are designated to that agency by the legislature or the local city council or whoever makes the budget for that public body. I think we need to tackle this problem on both ends. So more funding and resources for public records processing, which will hopefully reduce the need for people to pay very onerous fees for public records requests.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Well, and for a long time, ELGL has worked with the Clark and Korver community to recognize and celebrate how tremendously difficult that job can be and how often they are the nerve center of local government. They kind of have their finger on everything, but it doesn’t mean that they can wave their own magic wand and, you know, summon all records at a moment’s notice and their time is valuable, you know. And so asking them to go and to fulfill a very broad and and and not very focused request takes time away from somebody who could be providing a lot of value to a community elsewhere.

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, exactly. And, you know, I have to have to say, I had some notes on this interview that I wrote up beforehand. And, you know, that question of what does local government do right? I had in my notes, you know, city recorders. You know, city recorders are what local government does right. I mean, by and large, every city recorder that I interacted with was someone who had a good public service attitude and good customer service. So I mean, city recorders are really out there on the front lines dealing with all of the hard parts of public records requests, they’re dealing with folks within their agency that maybe you’re not moving as quickly as they should be on producing documents. And they’re also dealing with members of the public who have sort of had that loss of trust toward the government. So they might have that animosity. I mean they’re really on the front lines. So I do want to just give some praise there to the city recorders and the folks who are working on the front lines of public records processing because their work matters, and it’s often under appreciated.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Yeah, absolutely. And again, I think you know one thing that we try to do throughout the ELGL organization is celebrate the people that work in local government. And it sounds like we, we share an appreciation for how hard working people in local government are and how, you know, fundamentally we all want to do the right thing and make government, especially at the local level as responsive and have the best customer service we can.

 

Ginger McCall

Yeah, exactly.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

So if you could be the GovLove DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

 

Ginger McCall

You know, this was actually the most difficult and I sampled a few songs. Most of the things that I really love are kind of obscure and a little depressing. So let’s take something that’s not depressing. Awake my Soul by Mumford and Sons.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

Ooh, very good. Okay, I don’t think we’ve had a Mumford and Sons yet on our Spotify playlist. And so when you download this episode to listen to on Spotify, you can also go to our GovLove playlist where we compile all of our guest song picks. So I want to thank you for joining me today and for talking to us about this very important issue. For our listeners, we’ll link to some of the resources we talked about on today’s call. And again, Ginger, thank you so much for sharing your time with us today.

 

Ginger McCall

Thank you so much.

 

Kirsten Wyatt

GovLove is produced by a rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We are a social startup with the mission of engaging the brightest minds in local government. Don’t forget the National Day of Supper Clubbing or NDOSC is March 5th, and we are hosting Supper Clubs in 32 cities that day. So check out elgl.org for more information and register to attend the event near you. Supper Clubs are informal opportunities for local government fun and fellowship. And this year, we’re partnering with the US Census Bureau for NDOSC so you can have a great evening and make some new connections with the Census staff in your area, and they’ll have information to share with your communities about complete count efforts. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/GovLove or on Twitter @ Govlove podcast. And if you have a story idea for Govlove, we’d love to hear it. Send us a message on Twitter or email [email protected] Thank you for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government.

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