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Phoenix leaders need training, too

Elected officials should know state laws on public records and meetings

A public records audit conducted across Oregon in January showed that government workers need better training in complying with Oregon's public disclosure law. Recent events in a small Southern Oregon town show that elected officials, too, could stand to brush up on open government.

The Phoenix City Council and the town's mayor need a better understanding of how government must operate under Oregon law.

We make this observation not to throw stones at Phoenix's leaders. We're not suggesting that they have anything to hide from the public. We have no reason to suspect that they are anything but dedicated public servants who want to do the right thing.

But two statements in particular concern us, and they should concern Phoenix residents as well.

First, Councilman Steve Schulman requested an executive session ' a meeting closed to the public ' to iron out differences between Mayor Vicki Bear and council members over Bear's earlier directive that news media inquiries about city business go through her. That directive was later rescinded.

The closed-door meeting never happened, because state law allows such meetings only in specific circumstances, including to discuss the purchase or sale of property, to discuss pending litigation or to discuss personnel matters or negotiations with a labor union. Patching up disagreements between the mayor and council members is not one of those.

— The second troubling news was Bear's suggestion on Thursday that she would issue confidential memos to council members to tell them about city business she had discussed with others. State law says letters and other official correspondence by elected officials are public documents.

It's perfectly natural for thoughtful people to want to meet or correspond privately to discuss matters that may make them uncomfortable or generate heated debate. And that's appropriate ' for private matters between private individuals.

Public business, however, belongs in public. City residents have a right to watch and listen as their elected representatives iron out their differences and make policy.

We are confident that Phoenix's mayor and council will sort things out and the city government will begin functioning more smoothly. Having all elected officials read the Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual would be a good place to start.