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City Councilor refuses to turn over notes taken during official business, citizen files lawsuit

Teri CummingsWest Linn resident Rory Bialostosky has filed a lawsuit to force City Councilor Teri Cummings to release the handwritten notes she takes in an official capacity, which he deems public record under ORS 192.314.

According to Bialostosky, city officials asked Cummings to supply the notes for inspection and Cummings refused.

The suit is asking for enforced disclosure of the notes and legal costs incurred by Bialostosky.

Bialostosky thinks it's in the public interest to see Cummings' notes because of the strong and sometimes adversarial stances she takes on issues.

"For the past several months, residents have begun to notice the dysfunctional, bad direction that the West Linn City Council is taking the City, led by Council President Cummings as the de facto leader of the majority. ... As the leader of this majority, Ms. Cummings has played perhaps the biggest role in bringing the City downward," stated Bialostosky in a news release.

Cummings did not return calls for comment.

In an interview, Bialostosky explained further: "For example, Cummings strongly opposed the appointment of Todd Jones (recently named Metro Teacher of the Year) to the city budget committee," he said. He also suggested that, given Jones' standing in the community, the reason Cummings opposed the appointment was because Jones encourages students like him to be politically active and in doing so, Bialostosky has become a bit of a thorn in the side of City Council.

Oregon law states that "Every person has a right to inspect any public record of a public body in this state, except as otherwise expressly provided by ORS 192.338." The majority of the exemptions cover things like personally identifiable information, lawyer/client privilege or industry secrets.

West Linn's official council rules and policies remind councilors that: "The disposition of public records created or received by Councilors shall be in accordance with Oregon Public Records Law. Written information incidental to the official duties of a member of the City Council, including electronic mail messages, notes, memos and calendars (e.g., Outlook calendars and "Day timers") are public records and are subject to disclosure under the Public Records Law."

Oregon law ordinarily allows requesters to appeal to their local district attorney when denied public records but when the public body is not the "custodian" of the records, legal action is the only choice available.

Cummings has been leading the charge to persuade the City to release records from an executive session held by Council that violated state rules on allowed subjects (for which it was sanctioned) and has championed transparency throughout her time on council and during her campaign.

Cummings has 30 days to respond to the suit. State law allows for the awarding of court costs and possible contempt of court sanctions if the public body/person is found noncompliant with state laws.

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