The Gazette-Times is considering its legal options after Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson handed the newspaper a major setback in its pursuit of pay records from Oregon State University, ruling against the G-T on almost every part of its appeal.
The Gazette-Times and two co-petitioners, former OSU student media adviser Kate Willson and Megan Campbell, managing editor of the campus newspaper, asked Haroldson on Feb. 10 to compel the university to release information it had withheld while partially granting a request for five years’ worth of records from its compensation database.
The Oregon Public Records Law begins with the proposition that everyone has the right to inspect any public record, but hundreds of exemptions have been added in the years since it was adopted. Haroldson cited some of those exemptions as well as state administrative rules in his decision, issued late Tuesday afternoon.
The district attorney declined to order OSU to provide information about employee gender, saying he lacked enough information to determine whether that could be done without creating an unreasonable invasion of privacy.
On the question of sick leave and vacation pay, Haroldson rendered a split decision. He ruled that OSU must provide the information for staff members but not for faculty members, saying the faculty records are considered private under state administrative rules.
The DA declined to order release of records on deferred compensation, saying it was unclear whether such compensation would have a fiscal impact on OSU and therefore be considered public.
He also refused to order the release of overtime pay data, accepting OSU’s contention that it does not track overtime in a separate database field and saying the university is not required to compile the data separately.
Finally, he refused to order OSU to release any information regarding student employee compensation. Haroldson held that the G-T and its fellow petitioners had failed to make the case that revealing how much money student workers are paid would not violate FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
Gazette-Times Editor Mike McInally said the decision deprives the public of access to important information about pay rates at a taxpayer-funded institution and that the newspaper is considering a lawsuit to force OSU to disclose all its pay records.
“Those appear to be very significant gaps, and we might be interested in pursuing a legal appeal of Mr. Haroldson’s ruling in this matter,” he said.
“We are very concerned about such a broad reading of the FERPA matter,” McInally added, arguing that the law was designed to shield educational records, not pay data. “We are concerned as well about the ruling on overtime and deferred compensation as they clearly involve expenditures of state money.”
The refusal to provide information on employee gender also is troubling, he said.
“That’s concerning as well, in part because it obviously inhibits our ability to look at gender equity issues and explore topics we know would be of interest to readers — and taxpayers and citizens.”
It was not immediately clear whether Oregon State University would appeal the order to produce records relating to staff vacation and sick pay.
Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for marketing and university relations, called the ruling “complex” and said university officials were still reviewing it.