Committee still striving for secrecy on Mirror Pond

The committee that’s trying to decide the future of Bend’s Mirror Pond held a meeting Tuesday that was open to the public.

That shouldn’t be an occasion to hand out medals. In this case, it initially felt like it.

But then the committee proceeded to renew its efforts to cultivate secrecy. Nobody’s getting a medal now.

A subset of the committee is going to hold private talks with Pacific Power to discuss the dam.

Those are the meetings that will attempt to get to the bottom of one of the crucial unanswered questions about Mirror Pond’s future: What is the dam’s future?

That answer goes a long way toward dictating if Mirror Pond stays Mirror Pond or returns to a more natural river.

The Mirror Pond committee’s plan is to have Bend Park & Recreation Director Don Horton, the district’s lawyer, Neil Bryant, and Bend City Councilor Mark Capell hold talks with Pacific Power. Nobody else would be allowed to watch.

The trio would then presumably return with whatever deal Pacific Power would agree to.

So, for one of the most crucial unanswered questions about Mirror Pond’s future, the deal is going to be decided behind closed doors.

It must be hard for some to remember that Oregon’s public meetings laws are about keeping the public’s business open to the public. At the same time, the law does recognize that there are some things that need a level of confidentiality — real estate transactions, some employee issues, litigation, trade secrets and more.

In Oregon, the instrument for such confidentiality is executive session. A governing body opens a public meeting. It then declares the reason it is going into executive session. It can then meet without the public, though the media can attend. It’s subject to the understanding that media representatives don’t directly report what goes on in executive session.

The media is there to improve its understanding of decisions so it can keep the public better informed. It is also there to be a watchdog — to ensure that what is discussed in executive session is appropriate.

The important thing to remember about Oregon’s law is that the nondisclosure requirement should be no broader than the public interest requires.

What the Mirror Pond committee is doing is going further. It is saying that those critical negotiations with Pacific Power should not be held in executive session. They should be held without any oversight at all.

The Mirror Pond committee’s aim should not be to preserve its privacy.

Source: The Bulletin ©2013

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