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Local editorial

Keep festival business open Members' privacy can be protected without shrouding OSF in secrecy

The Oregon Shakespeare Festival has asked its nearly 20,000 members if they wish to give up their voting rights in order to protect their privacy. We encourage those members to reject the proposal and keep the festival's decision-making process as open as possible.

The membership issue arose after Philip Lang, an Ashland member and longtime critic of the festival, requested a mailing list of all members as he prepared to challenge the festival over its notification process for annual meetings. According to OSF Executive Director Paul Nicholson, that sparked concerns among board members about privacy issues, including fears that such requests could lead to the list being used for non-festival solicitations.

Oregon law requires that nonprofits with voting memberships provide membership contact information to any member within two days' notice of an annual meeting.

Lang notes correctly that state law already prohibits the use of the membership information for anything other than organizational business.

While we agree with Nicholson that confidentiality is a serious issue these days, we are not convinced that the mailing list ' even if it were illegally released ' would pose much of a threat to the members. The list contains only contact information and no birth dates, Social Security numbers or contribution records that would truly present a threat.

But ending the tradition of voting membership does pose a threat to information access for the public. The festival is not a public agency, but it is an enormous public presence in Ashland and the region.

— We think it's a stretch to suggest, as Lang does, that the board could use this newfound secrecy to vote to abandon Ashland. But the lack of any public view into the proceedings certainly makes it more likely that a questionable proposal could be put before the board and voted on before anyone in the community ever hears a whisper about it.

Rather than shutting out the community, perhaps the OSF board should approach the state Legislature and suggest a modest revision in the state law. It seems reasonable to us that membership contact information could be closely kept by the organization, but a requirement put in place that a mailing from one of the members must be handled by the organization ' at the individual member's expense.

Oregon's public meetings and records laws were developed to keep government activities open to the people. The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is not a government agency, but its actions potentially carry great ramifications for the public. We hope its members will agree that it should remain in the spotlight at center stage rather than behind a curtain of secrecy.