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Not too secret

The public's business belongs in the open excecpt in very limited cases

A proposal to limit or eliminate public access to local government records and meetings regarding security issues appears reasonable at first glance. After all, what good are security measures if anyone can look at them?

But a bill proposed last week in the Legislature is not reasonable, because it opens the door for public officials to keep all kinds of information out of the hands of the public without giving the public any assurance that the information is truly sensitive.

HB 2425 would close access to records regarding security measures and would allow local governments to meet secretly to discuss security issues relating to a list of subjects that includes generation, storage or conveyance of electricity, gas, hazardous substances, petroleum products, sewage and water and transmission of communications.

In other words, the state or a local government could keep information secret about power lines, dams, nuclear power plants, water treatment plants and communications systems. They could exclude the public and the media from any meeting in which security involving those subject is brought up.

But that brings up its own questions. What if a government decides that information about an unsafe dam constitutes a security risk? The public ' including those who live below the dam ' would never be told under the security blackout rule. Does that protect them from terrorism or does it just protect the government from having to deal with a potentially dangerous ' and embarrassing ' situation?

What if a local government installed a police communications system that proved to be an expensive boondoggle? Instead of facing the music, it could just declare the problem to be a security matter and close off all public access to information that affects citizens' taxes and safety.

Yes, there are legitimate reasons to protect details about security efforts. But this bill goes too far and would allow government officials to throw a blanket over a wide area of the public's business. We've said it before, we'll say it again: Public officials need to remember that first word in their description. The public is their boss and deserves to know as much as possible about how its business is being carried out.

We would not object to a measure that was strictly limited to security matters pertaining to terrorism threats. But even then, there should be a mechanism in place to challenge governments that attempt to close off records or meetings. Otherwise, the public is forced to rely entirely on the good faith of government officials.

Security is a concern for all of us. But so is access to our government. The Legislature should ensure that any bill it passes protects us on both counts.

It was refreshing to see users of a resource plead for higher license fees rather than come before a legislative hearing in Salem to protest a fee increase.

At the hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, a steady stream of sportsmen and women said they would welcome the opportunity to pay &

36;5 to &

36;10 more for annual licenses if it meant keeping hatcheries open and maintaining a staff of field biologists and game enforcement officers.

One outdoorsman, Chuck Smith of Medford, said the vast majority of outdoor enthusiasts he has talked to are willing to pay higher fees.

A bill now before the Legislature, House Bill 2260, would raise more than &

36;10 million by raising fees to keep wildlife programs intact.

Not everyone favors an increase in outdoor license fees. In the aftermath of Measure 28, legislators are looking for ways to restore money to pay for essential services at a cost of &

36;15 million. Raising a similar amount to benefit anglers and hunters could raise questions about the state's priorities.

Be that as it may, it can't hurt to have outdoor enthusiasts stand up in Salem and volunteer to pay more for licenses to keep hatcheries open and maintain staff.