Ashland city attorney suggests council consider policy on ‘what constitutes sufficient proof of media status’
By Bert Etling, Ashland.news
Who’s really “a representative of the news media”? Under Oregon law, the answer determines whether they are allowed to attend most government body executive sessions.
The provision was included in the original Public Meetings Law enacted in 1973 for several reasons, according to a 2016 review prepared by state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, including ensuring governing bodies stick to “permissible purposes” for closed sessions, and to permit news media to “gain valuable background information for future reporting.” Reporters may be required to not share specific information discussed at the session.
“Representatives of the news media shall be allowed to attend executive sessions,” the law reads, while going on to cite certain limited exceptions, including labor negotiations.
Ashland City Attorney Katrina Brown will bring before the council at Monday night’s study session a “request for direction” regarding adoption of a policy, possibly similar to ordinances adopted by the cities of Salem, Oregon City and Cottage Grove setting up a list of approved media outlets and criteria for admission to the approved list.
The proposal is being brought forward by Brown after a decision was made to ban a member of the press at the prior council meeting, Mayor Julie Akins said in an email. Brown is asking whether the city council wants to consider adopting a policy, which could include what constitutes as “sufficient proof of media status.”
Dean Silver, who writes for The Ashland Chronicle, wrote that he received no response from the city to his request for access until the following day. It said, “due to a lack of information at that time that you not be allowed into the Executive Session.”
A similar request by Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth also went unanswered, and she was unable to view the executive session, which was held via Zoom.
“No evidence whatsoever was presented to the City Attorney to substantiate that this person was a representative of the news media,” Brown writes in the agenda packet for the study session, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Jan. 31.
Akins, who has an extensive background in journalism, sent several news organizations an email about the study session on Saturday morning. She also posted on Facebook and NextDoor, saying the proposal is something “I can only see as an assault on the free press and your rights to have a watchdog evaluating your government.”
The new city attorney was assistant city attorney for four years before becoming interim city attorney in June after Dave Lohman’s resignation, and was named to the post permanently in October. Her previous experience includes 10 years as assistant city attorney with the city of Salem.
Those in the public wishing to give oral testimony about the policy must fill out a speaker request form at ashland.or.us/speakerrequest and send it to the city recorder by 10 a.m. Monday. The same deadline applies for submission of written testimony. The meeting will be conducted via Zoom, and shown live on cable channels 9 or 180, and on rvtv.sou.edu.
Email Ashland.news Executive Editor Bert Etling at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 541-631-1313. Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth contributed to this story.