January was a poor month for Baker City and Baker County government when it comes to complying with Oregon’s Public Meetings Law.
Fortunately both the Baker City Council and the Baker County Commissioners acknowledged, and addressed, their mistakes.
But both involved simply worded requirements of the law, and neither should have happened.
The City Council, after choosing Loran Joseph as mayor on Jan. 9 without announcing during the meeting how each councilor had voted, rectified the violation by making the results public.
On Tuesday the county commissioners, who were meeting in executive session, which is closed to the public as the law allows for certain topics, proceeded to move into a public session and cast a vote.
But the public notice announcing Tuesday’s meeting said it would be limited to the executive session discussion.
The Public Meetings Law requires that when a public body plans a meeting which will include both an executive and a public session, the notice for that meeting will mention both. The reason is clear — if a meeting has a public portion, during which commissioners could conceivably make a decision (which they’re not allowed to do during an executive session), members of the public might well want to attend. They’re also legally entitled to attend.
But just as obviously, members of the public aren’t likely to show up for a meeting that, according to the notice, will consist solely of an executive session that they can’t attend anyway.
Commissioners rescinded the vote and they will revisit the matter, which involves potential legal action regarding a road blocked by a locked gate near Lookout Mountain, at their next regular public meeting on Wednesday.
The Public Meetings Law isn’t perfect. Since it was passed in 1973 it has become larded with exemptions that allow public bodies to meet in executive sessions.
Fortunately the law still requires that our elected officials make decisions during meetings open to the public. But that requirement is rendered meaningless if, as the county commissioners did Tuesday, the public is told the meeting isn’t open.
— Jayson Jacoby, Baker City Herald editor