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Records were made to be open

Our job as a newspaper is to remind government that it works for the public

For the second time in a month, this newspaper has asked Jackson County District Attorney Mark Huddleston to order the release of government information the Mail Tribune believes is a public record. For the second time, Huddleston has issued such an order.

We take pride in those outcomes not because they will lead to front-page stories exposing corruption in high places ' they won't ' but because they reaffirm the fundamental principle of open government.

The first case involved the Medford School District's refusal to release the names and e-mail addresses of district residents who sent electronic comments about the district's proposed health curriculum. The newspaper argued that the identities of people seeking to influence public policy ought to be public; Huddleston agreed. The district is appealing his order in court.

The second case involved the newspaper's request for a copy of the resignation letter submitted by an employee of the Medford Planning Department. Jennie Quayle, an administrative support technician, is the eighth employee to quit the department this year and the 18th in five years. The department has a staff of 19. Turnover in the department has been a matter of public concern, and many former employees have said they left because of mismanagement, low morale and high stress.

City Attorney John Huttl refused to release the resignation letter, claiming it was personal information and would violate Quayle's privacy.

This newspaper is not interested in invading anyone's privacy, and the law clearly allows the city to withhold information of a personal nature, such as health problems or family issues. In fact, Huddleston's ruling specifically allows the city to withhold Quayle's home address and telephone number. The rest of the letter, he said, is not personal in nature, and releasing it would not be an unreasonable invasion of privacy.

— The city has seven days to decide whether to appeal Huddleston's order in court or to release the letter.

Will the letter shed any light on the management of the Medford Planning Department? Maybe. Maybe not. The actual contents of the letter are less important than the principle involved.

Oregon has some of the strongest public records laws in the country. That's something of which all Oregonians should be proud. It means they can be confident that their business ' the business of government ' is conducted in public, and that they can inspect documents that indicate how their government is functioning.

But like many important freedoms, open government laws need to be exercised regularly to make sure they still work as they were designed to do. Left unattended, public records laws may be forgotten or ignored by those whose job it is to comply with them.

That's why the Mail Tribune will continue to press for openness in government ' not because every public record is news, but because every public record belongs to the public.