Natalie St. John recently provided a well-written, compelling case for the public’s right to know ("Records ordeal reveals conflicts about dealing with racism," Chinook Observer, Feb. 19). She related her frustration at accessing Astoria Police Department documents.
Her investigative report concerned an Ocean Park, Washington resident who posted KKK-like flyers in Astoria, seeking to mobilize fellow homophobes and racists. St. John related how Astoria police officials appeared worried about the safety of the perpetrator, while initially declining to provide requested information.
That incident attracted my attention. As a nine-year Oregon resident, I was aware of information disclosure statutes, such as the 1973 public records law that identified 550-plus exemptions concerning what was deemed “sensitive information.” In 2017, the Oregon Legislature tripped all over themselves, issuing four public record laws in an effort to generate greater public trust in state and local officials. However, I’m not sure the Oregon Sunshine Committee has provided enough clarification to prevent simple requests by St. John, and others, from becoming mired in obfuscation.
As a teacher of freedom of speech courses, American Civil Liberties Union member, and longtime advocate of the public’s right to know, I fully understand the slippery slopes St. John had to traverse. She raised important questions about the First Amendment, the right to privacy, government transparency, investigative journalism, and just how much protection we citizens should allow for hate speech. She raised some tough questions without easy answers.
Ocean Park, Washington