HASSO HERING

A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Albany council leaves viewers in the dark

Written December 1st, 2021 by Hasso Hering

The Albany City Council and staff during the open part of Wednesday’s regular meeting.

Like a mystery novel that ends each chapter with a cliffhanger, the Albany City Council on Wednesday night left its audience hanging and wanting to know more.

At the conclusion of a long and routine session that dealt mostly with code changes intended to make housing more available and affordable, the council withdrew into an executive session closed to the public, as allowed by law. The announced topic was litigation.

When the council’s Zoom meeting re-emerged to where the public could watch, Mayor Alex Johnson II recused himself, meaning he wasn’t taking part in whatever might follow. Elected officials normally do that when they have or might have a conflict of interest.

Then, Councilman Ray Kopczynski made a motion to indemnify three city employees in “potential litigation moving forward.” Kopczynski named them: Chris Bailey, Jon Goldman and Robb Romeo. (Bailey is the public works director; Romeo the transportation manager, and Goldman a former transportation superintendent.)

To indemnify them means they don’t have to hire their own lawyers to defend themselves. The vote to approve the motion was unanimous.

Nobody thought it worthwhile to explain at least in outline what this was all about.

One of those who sat through the Zoom blackout of the public was former Mayor Sharon Konopa. “Very vague motion afterwards,” she said by email. Others also watched and were curious as well, she added.

Under Oregon law, reporters such as me are allowed to listen in on most executive sessions with the understanding they reveal nothing they learn there. I did attend this one.

The story is interesting, and the public should hear it, if only to understand more about the way our legal system operates.

I’ve emailed the city attorney a request for a pertinent public record, the kind of record that is routinely released in other Oregon jurisdictions. Assuming I get what I asked for, I can tell you the rest of the story then. (hh)





15 responses to “Albany council leaves viewers in the dark”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    It’s not like the city had any choice. State law requires indemnification.

    https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_30.285

    (1) “The governing body of any public body shall defend, save harmless and indemnify any of its officers, employees and agents, whether elective or appointive, against any tort claim or demand, whether groundless or otherwise, arising out of an alleged act or omission occurring in the performance of duty.”

    But there are exceptions:

    (2) “The provisions of subsection (1) of this section do not apply in case of malfeasance in office or willful or wanton neglect of duty.”

    Governments have very deep pockets (you, the taxpayers). They can afford to do this.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    It’s interesting that the city permits a blogger to attend executive sessions.

    Individual bloggers don’t exactly fit within the definition of “institutional media” or “news organization.”

    And it’s more interesting that you won’t report what you heard. There is no penalty for a “news organization” to report what the city wants to keep away from the public.

    Perhaps a bunch of city residents should fire up their own individual blogs and demand to be let in to the executive sessions. And then “report” what they heard. This would provide a valuable service to the taxpayers who have to pay the bills.

    • Ray Kopczynski says:

      Hasso has defintely *earned* the right to attend IMO. As such, he is bound to not report information that occurs in an executive session. But you already knew that…

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        I’ll ignore your smart ass remark and remind you that this is a legal issue.

        And judging by your comment you seem to approach it as political favor or back scratching.

        There is no legal consequence for reporting. So what legal requirement binds him to not report?

        Would you support every individual blogger of Albany “news” getting access to executive sessions? If not, why not?

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          “…no legal consequence for reporting…
          I’ll suggest any reporter who “blabbed” about an executive session, would not be allowed to attend any going forward. Hasso has never crossed that line.

          And your comment about him simply being a blogger is quite demeaning. The rest of your blather doesn’t warrant a response.

        • Hasso Hering says:

          “Legal requirements” are not the only reason to do or not to do something. There’s also a matter of a person’s word. I attend some executive sessions with the understanding that I won’t report the details of what goes on in the meetings. Then why attend? Because it leaves me free to pursue the details, if newsworthy, some other way.

          As for the news media provisions of the open meetings law, the law is murky, to say the least. It does not, for example, define “news media.” And it shouldn’t, because how news is communicated, and by whom, is being revolutionized by technology. And it’s not the proper role of government do decide who is allowed to report on its activities.

          • Gordon L. Shadle says:

            Hasso, thank you for the serious response.

            Yes, the law is “murky” on who in the “media” can attend open meetings.

            And your comment that “it’s not the proper role of government to decide who is allowed to report on its activities” is spot on.

            So I would challenge other bloggers to challenge the city in this regard – try to go to the executive sessions and report what is happening.

            Hasso, I don’t know why you would give your “word” to the city not to report.

            But I’ll assume you have your reasons.

            Given no legal consequence, I hope other bloggers would not give their word to a city that, in my opinion, has long disrespected the Oregon public meetings law.

            The city’s behavior in regards to closing a meeting of the city council to certain persons is the antithesis of Oregon’s law.

            The city council’s behavior, and specifically the behavior of Ray K, contravenes the
            overarching purpose of the law. Shame on them.

    • Rich Kellum says:

      Gordon, let’s understand, when the “blogger” used to be the Editor, and writes in a more professional manner than the local paper, I would rather have that person in an executive session than the rep of the local paper.

  3. James Engel says:

    So..the Albany City Council has NEVER left the public in the dark???!!! If ya can’t stand up at a Sunday church meeting & shout it out then it’s best not said! They seem to love working under a rock until turned over to expose them! Just like in Communist Russia, less said the better!

  4. hj.anony1 says:

    Look like the DH has spilled the beans so go ahead Hasso. Blog away.

  5. Anon says:

    The article…..and the comments that then follow are case in point why government at any level should not engage in executive sessions. The legislature makes an end run around the entire transparency issue by having discussions and making decisions in caucus meetings that are closed to the public.

  6. Barbara L Kemper says:

    The allowable reasons for executive sessions are well defined in OR state law. I was involved in a case in Clackamas where a commissioner attempted to use ES to try to get us to unseat another commissioner. Fortunately, the reporter who was present stopped that session by pointing out to our attorney that this was not legal use of ES.

 

 
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