May 22, 2024

Whole Community News

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Eugene Neighborhood Involvement: We don’t have to follow public meeting laws

5 min read

UPDATE (June 21, 2023): The city announced that neighborhood association meetings are considered public meetings and will follow public meeting laws.

The City of Eugene says neighborhood associations are private clubs. Here is Southeast Neighbors co-chair Dennis Hebert at the May board meeting.

[00:00:08] SEN Co-chair Dennis Hebert: Okay, everyone. This is our official start to our May 3 SEN board meeting, so I’ll call it to order. I have a little something to read.

“As a reminder, this meeting will be recorded. Personal and audio and video recordings of this meeting are permitted, but only with prior full disclosure to the meeting attendees. Any personal video or audio recordings may not be reproduced in any form without informed consent of the individuals represented.”

[00:00:45] SEN Board member Rob Fisette: Sorry. I just had a quick question. Maybe now isn’t the time, but there’s this announcement at the beginning about the recording and use of the recording? (Yes) I wasn’t sure I quite understood what the implications of that were. What might be a good time to talk about it?

[00:01:00] Dennis Hebert: Well, we could do it shortly, for five minutes right now, but if we need to extend it to talk about it, we can do it at the end of the meeting or you could get with me some other time. Do you want me to read it again? Or, what is your question?

[00:01:18] Rob Fisette: No, I guess my main question is whether, I mean, this is a public meeting, right? (Well—)  I guess I don’t know why there’d be any limits on use of a recording of a public meeting.

[00:01:29] Dennis Hebert: Well, we had someone ask me to check on that after one of our last couple of meetings and I won’t mix words. John Q. is a media person and evidently he was recording the whole meeting last time. And no one was really aware that he was recording the meeting and then posted electronic media or whatever on the Internet. So I asked HRNI what the situation was with that. And they gave me one response and they’re also looking up higher to see what exactly it is.

[00:02:16] I have two ORS’s that they sent me that talk about that and I can send them to you. And it talks about Oregon is legally allowed to record electronic kind of conversations. We seek assent of one party, but you need the consent of all involved to record an oral conversation. And that the state requires consent of one party for a lawful recording or disclosure of electronic communications. (Seems like that would exclude public meetings.)

[00:02:53] So what it means is, well, one of the things that they told me at HRNI, and that they’re checking on that, they’re not sure that we are actually a public meeting. The way she put it is that, ‘HRNI recognizes that the formally recognized neighborhood associations are not representatives of the City, nor are they subject to public meeting laws.

[00:03:23] However, because they are formally recognized entities and receive public funds, there is an expectation that they will act in the spirit of the law and make all meetings open to the public and notice their associations of the meetings on our public meetings calendar.’ So that does not really refer anything to, you know, any, anything else.

[00:03:48] But as she said, is that. She is kicking it up higher to find out a little bit more about it. And it was because that we had some people ask us about that after last time.

[00:04:05] SEN Board Member Rob Fisette: I’d be happy to be forwarded or included on those communications.

[00:04:09] John Q: Co-chair Dennis Hebert was referring to a neighborhood news story about City Councilor Matt Keating’s monthly report. To accommodate his schedule, the Councilor was moved up on the agenda.

[00:04:22] SEN Co-chair Devon Mann: Do you want to just go now, Matt, since you only have a few minutes—

[00:04:25] Councilor Matt Keating: I’m happy to, is there a way to stop the recording for our conversation? So I can just have a frank—

[00:04:30] Zoom voice: Recording stopped.

[00:04:31] Councilor Matt Keating: Thank you. That worked!

[00:04:33] I appreciate that. I just want to have an open, honest dialogue with you all, and I really appreciate the advocacy and the positive tone by which you’ve communicated your concepts and heartburn and consternation.

[00:04:47] John Q: Councilor Keating praised Southeast Neighbors for a respectful discussion and heard from three board members.

[00:04:54] SEN Board Member David Monk: So your Planning Commission’s proposal is leaving it to the development community to provide us housing. And we all know we need affordable housing for a subset of our population that this will not assist at all. In fact, it may harm them. So please give a look at that piece: attached / unattached or detached, that definition. That’s hugely problematic for me. Thanks.

[00:05:19] SEN Board Member Emily Fox: it’s important, very important also to take in climate change. And I think that, reduce lot size from 75 percent back down to 50 (percent) is good because we need shade trees in our city to reduce the temperature. We also need gardens. There could become a time with some disaster happens where people need to grow food.

[00:05:47] SEN Board Member Ela Kubok: In regards to some form of income requirements for some of the larger housing that might be put forward: Will there be any way to reserve those for people with specific income levels in our community?

[00:06:02] John Q: At the conclusion of his report Councilor Keating praised the neighborhood group.

[00:06:06] Councilor Matt Keating: So that’s housing in a nutshell, you can see why I wanted to go offline. I wanted to just have a really frank and brief conversation with you all about my intent and just to let you know, we don’t always have to agree, but I hear you. And I hear some of the concerns that have been expressed and at least to me, at least within our South Eugene Ward Two boundaries, you all have been so wholly respectful.

[00:06:28] And I wanted just from the bottom of my heart to say, thank you for that, that I think we’re a model of positive communication with each other, whether we agree entirely with each other or not. So thank you. And it’s 7:16, I had to leave a minute ago. So you can start your recording again.

[00:06:45] Zoom voice: Recording in progress.

[00:06:46] Councilor Matt Keating: I didn’t want my entire report to be about housing, but there we are.

[00:06:49] John Q: The Southeast Communications Committee did not get a response to its question: If we are modeling respectful civic discussion, why stop the recording?

[00:06:58] With all eyes on the Supreme Court as it moves to restrict reproductive rights, the City of Eugene quietly moves to restrict freedom of the press.

[00:07:07] HRNI says it doesn’t have to comply with the public meeting laws, because the City considers a neighborhood association to be a private club.

Update: July 3, 2023: The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment Oregon’s law requiring journalists to obtain consent of any individual they record. Cindy Koehler of the city’s Office of Equity and Community Engagement also subsequently stated that neighborhood meetings are considered public meetings.

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