Did your local government break the law? What to do?

 

Point #1 - This is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer, personally don't care for many of their tactics. This is information provided by someone who has been putting a can opener to local governments in Oregon since 2006.

 

I often hear that if the local government is doing something wrong, I should contact the authorities and let them handle it instead of just being a troublemaker. That would be really great, right? I could just let the state handle it and I could go back to vacuuming.

Let me give you a heads up to where the authorities stand on different violations and whose responsibility it is to enforce the penalties.

Say the entity (council, planning commission, whatever group is required to post ) has a meeting and doesn't post an agenda or meeting notice. It is on a citizen to file in circuit court against the entity. You pay the filing fee, which you may or may not get back. If the judge determines you were right, that simply undoes whatever decision they made. There are no financial penalties for violating that law. If the judge decides against you (not that a judge would ever find for a government group, right?), you are on the hook for all of their court costs, legal fees, etc. and exposed to a personal suit.

Say the entity tells you can't videotape a meeting. See above.

Say the entity goes into executive session without legal basis. Say to discuss salaries or what they are having for dinner. Or they made a decision inside an executive session. Then you can file a complaint with Oregon Government Ethics Commission. You have to be able to prove what they did. Ethics does not have subpoena authority. The audio of an executive session is not a public record. But, say you have all of that information...if they entered the executive session based on advice from their attorney, they can be found guilty but no penalty will be assessed.

Say the attorney give the entity bad advice. You can't file a complaint at the state bar against the attorney, because the attorney doesn't work for you. It works for the contracting agency. So, the contracting agency is the only one who can file a complaint.

You have requested records and the city refuses to comply. You must have put the request in writing, even if your entity doesn't require it. Then, you can take the matter to your local District Attorney and ask they help get the record you are requesting.

You have requested a record and they want to charge you an arm and a leg. Not much can be done, except you can appeal to the entity for a fee waiver or reduction. There is a list of reasons and the process to file located in the AG Meetings and Records Manual. See the link in the upper left corner.

You filed a petition of one kind or another, following state election law guidelines and the entity doesn't respond in a timely manner (or at all). Take copies of everything you took in and get the State Elections Division on the horn. This is something that will be taken care of.

I could add 20 more situations that have come up in Lafayette, including items like violating bond agreements, failing to comply with several state laws and violating rights. If you have a specific situation that you need help with, contact me and I will see if I can offer any help.