City Councilor David Allen, in a moment of heightened frustration, convinced his fellow city councilors Monday to hold a council workshop to ascertain whether they’re getting adequate legal advice in at least one area of the law – public records – documents that should not be withheld from the city council and the public.
Allen was visibly miffed when he learned that City Attorney Christy Monson, of the Speer Hoyt law firm in Eugene, sent legal work invoices to the city with instructions that they not be shared with the city council. Interim City Manager Ted Smith said that the reason the request was made, “in my opinion,” he said, “was that Monson was concerned that the invoices might be leaked to the news media as was allegedly the case with a memo in connection with a recent incident involving airport employees and certain city council members.
Councilor Allen claimed that invoices for billable services are not necessarily confidential documents. They are simply bills for legal work performed on behalf of the city. Allen said if there are references to confidential matters like specific employee issues or potential lawsuits, those references can be redacted (blacked out) with the remaining list of services provided untouched and made available to the council, the news media and to the public at large.
Allen said not only does the city council have the duty to monitor invoices as part of its general oversight duties as a council, but the public, via the news media, has a legal right to review them as well in the interest of transparency and accountability. Allen said Monson’s request that the invoices not be made available for general review was “over the line,” and that the council should sit down together and discuss the issue. Allen indicated that the quality of legal services from Speer Hoyt has otherwise been excellent.
The city council decided to take up the matter at its next city council meeting. A Speer Hoyt employee told News Lincoln County that Monson is on vacation and is unreachable for comment but that he would pass a message to her.
Meanwhile, Newport Clerk Recorder Peggy Hawker, acting as the city’s official trustee of city public records, made copies of the latest Speer Hoyt invoices available to the news media. Hawker said no information contained in the invoices was confidential or restricted under the state public records statutes.