A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Another closed session of Albany council

Written September 14th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

The council doors were closed during an earlier executive session, on Aug. 22, 2020.

The Albany City Council loves executive sessions where the public is excluded and reporters are allowed in but barred from reporting what they hear.

The council held another one of these closed sessions Wednesday night. It lasted 48 minutes.

As allowed by the Oregon Public Meetings Law of 1973, public bodies can hold closed-door sessions for several reasons. One reason is to discuss real estate transactions. Another is to discuss labor contracts.

The law allows closed meetings on these occasions but does not require them. It’s up to the council whether to be open or not.

The reasoning behind allowing closed meetings is to protect the public interest. But the public interest is not always easy to see.

If a city wants to buy property for a public purpose, it may want to keep its intent under wraps for a while lest public knowledge of its wishes drive up the price. That’s the theory.

On the other hand, being open from the start might prevent a bad decision. Albany bought the downtown Wells Fargo building in secret only to find years later that the building can’t be economically repurposed.

After Monday’s closed session, the council voted 4-2 to “authorize negotiations for a transaction of real estate within the city.” It also voted unanimously to negotiate the sale to the city of Lebanon of a parcel of land that Albany owns there, and to ratify a two-year contract with the AFSCME union.

What’s the point of a closed session on a labor contract the union has already ratified? If the session had been open, interested residents would have learned what the contract provides, and they would have heard positive comments about the helpful way the union had conducted the talks.

As for real estate, why be coy about the sale of a lot Albany got with the purchase of the water system from Pacific  Power & Light in 1985? Why is it wrong to let the public in both Lebanon and Albany know what Lebanon offered and what Albany is willing to accept?

As for the real estate transaction in Albany, there are reasons Councilors Dick Olsen and Stacey Bartholomew voted against the authorization to negotiate, and why Councilwoman Matilda Novak explained her “yes” vote by saying it was only to start negotiations.

From the voting, you know this is an important and potentially controversial move.

What is it about? Well, the council does not want you to know. And by listening in to this closed session, I implicitly agreed to stay mum as well. (hh)


People watching Wednesday’s council session got this image for about 48 minutes before the open session resumed.

13 responses to “Another closed session of Albany council”

  1. Hartman says:

    It difficult to believe that intrepid Reporters would bow to a City Council imposed NDA. What’s the point of being an Intrepid Reporter if the Council strikes such fear in the hearts of the Fourth Estate? What’s the worst that can happen? Hering would be banned from attending Council Closed Sessions. Can the Council impose contempt charges on News organizations, tossing our hard-hitting investigative reporters into the miserable bowels of Albany jails?

    Hering, and any other News organization already NOT reporting, is in collusion with this secretive cabal, preventing the public (the folks who pay for this nonsense) from knowing the truth. What is the point of attending but not reporting on Council actions being taken – actions that we are told are far too sensitive or too complex for the citizens to know about them? Do these Non-Reporters derive some kinky satisfaction in knowing they are privileged Insiders to information the hoi polloi is forbidden from knowing? In some respects, this sordid relationship between the government and the Press is too cute by half. But hey, like Tucker always says, “I’m just asking questions.”

  2. Jennifer Moody says:

    Hartman, while I agree with you in principle, and I know of instances in which reporters have indeed chosen to break the seal of the confessional, as it were, it is a legal requirement that reporters agree to not publish.
    And yes, reporters have gone to jail for many reasons that boil down to defending the public’s right to know. I admire and support their dedication.
    So why go to a closed session if you can’t report?
    Three good reasons:
    One, the reporter agrees to stay silent ONLY if the governing body stays within the bounds of what the executive session is supposed to be about. They stray into a different area, and that’s fair reporting game. You wouldn’t know that if you weren’t present.
    Which brings us to Two: Sometimes the very presence of the reporter is enough to keep the group on the straight and narrow. They aren’t supposed to take a vote in exec session, for instance. If they do, you can call them out.
    And Three, there is absolutely no rule against chasing the information you hear a different way after the meeting is over. After executive session adjourns, nothing prevents you from saying, for instance, “Hey, Councilor X, tell me more about that real estate deal,” or whatever. And if the councilor answers, you then have on-the-record info. Or you can go research the tort claim or look up the business license or whatever.
    If nothing else, you have great background and context for understanding future council decisions.

  3. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    What binds an Albany elected official to secrecy?

    Is there a state law or local ordinance that criminalizes & penalizes sharing?

    • Hasso Hering says:

      I may not be aware of all the legalities. But as far as I know there is nothing to keep reporters from reporting what they hear in executive sessions except a sense of ethics: “If I attend this session, it’s with the understanding that it’s confidential. I feel obligated to abide by that understanding.”
      In the case of the Albany council, the council does its best to put a strain on that obligation by having the mayor read a text saying “media” are directed not to report what they hear. It’s not the council’s right to direct anything about the media, or to direct anyone other than its own employees.

  4. Dick Olsen says:

    Thanks Hasso for your attempts to pry open the deepening opacity of this council and its management. I am discouraged and angry at their efforts to shut out comment from the public and reporting by the press.

  5. MarK says:

    Vote them out. Let’s take our chances with some fresh folks.

  6. Anon says:

    The state statute that allows executive sessions for public bodies should be amended to eliminate them except for deliberations to terminate a member of the leadership team of an organization. In this heightened era of mistrust of government, continuing to hold executive sessions is very poor form. Elected officials whose job it is to represent the public should not let attorneys and staff of the organization put them in that box in the first place.

  7. Bill Kapaun says:

    With the thousands of $ our City Council/Mayor have thrown down the toilet with bad decisions, they should get out of the real estate business. Cumberland church, the bank building and God might know what else. we can’t afford on the job training to people who refuse to learn from their mistakes.

  8. Rich Kellum says:

    Hasso, If you recall, there were a couple of us at the time that said do not do this. I will tell you that the urge to say “I hate to say I told you so” Is almost overwhelming on a number of issues…. the PP&L water tank was one of them, I was prepared to offer $32.000.00 for that but I could not come up with a way where it would not appear to be a good old boy transaction. So what did they get out of it? $7000?

  9. centrist says:

    After observing government mechanics in many cities, states, and levels, what happens in the open meetings is usually about reading into the record what has already been decided.
    Frank discussions between peers, selling, bargaining, etc happen elsewhere and elsewhen.


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