The Mercury has been through some fun times, trying to get hold of public records under state public records law, since I joined the paper in 2006. If your definition of "fun" means "never getting what you ask for, and/or being constantly delayed and legally outspent/maneuvered, especially by the city attorney's office which is notorious for this kind of crap," that is.

Now, there's a movement to ask Attorney General John Kroger to reform the law to make it fall in line with public records law in other states—being specific about the deadlines a public agency has to reply to a request: Five days. Here in Oregon, currently, the requirement is only that public agencies reply to public records requests in a "reasonable and proper" time frame. Like, never.

University of Oregon economics professor Bill Harbaugh is behind the push. Writes Harbaugh:

In theory, Oregon's public records law makes it simple for people to get documents that are in the possession of a state or local agency. An email to the agency head saying "this is a public records request for" followed by a description of the document is all it should take. The agency is required to make a pro-forma response "as soon as practicable" and make "proper and reasonable" efforts to get you the documents promptly.

In practice things don’t work this way. Oregon law doesn't tell agencies how long they have to respond and some use this loophole with glee. The only recourse — short of court — is to petition Oregon’s Attorney General and ask him to order the agency to comply with the law. But with no firm deadline, the interpretation of "proper and reasonable" is all up to the AG. Former AG Hardy Meyers and his deputy Pete Shepherd routinely let state agencies take at least a month — sometimes even two — to produce even a single page document.

And to show he's not like most economics professors I can think of, Harbaugh has actually started a blog on the subject. We're with you, Bill! Go get 'em, tiger! Hat tip to SPJ Oregon.