If you want to know where Oregon Attorney General John Kroger stands on government openness, look no further than his office's Oct. 7 report on the subject, which begins, "A 2007 study of government transparency in the 50 states gave Oregon an 'F.'"
But if you do want to look further, consider his role in one of Oregon's most important public policy debates, which involves the condition of the PERS system.
The Oregonian newspaper has asked the state for information about all PERS retirees whose benefits exceed $100,000 per year. This isn't the first time the paper has made such a request. It did so almost a decade ago, when Hardy Myers was the state's attorney general. The Department of Justice at that time refused to release the information, arguing that doing so would amount to an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
But this month, Myers' successor told PERS to comply with the paper's new request. It takes guts for a Democrat in elective office to cross the labor unions that make up such a large portion of the party's base. But Kroger has done just that.
Meanwhile, PERS has dug in its heels because, as Executive Director Paul Cleary explains, "this is a major change" in the Department of Justice's advice. He wants the courts to provide "a second look," and to that end PERS has hired a private-practice lawyer. That lawyer, Pete Shepherd, is the very same person who, as a deputy attorney general in 2002, refused The Oregonian's previous request for PERS records.
Judging by this unusual determination to keep information under wraps, we suspect PERS officials are motivated by more than a desire to protect retirees' privacy. We suspect that releasing the information The Oregonian requested would shock many taxpayers, which demonstrates both the need for laws guaranteeing government transparency and the value of elected officials, like John Kroger, determined to uphold them.
- Wescom News Service (Bend Bulletin)