Hush hush, sweet journalist

There are so many things that the powers-that-be don't want us to know about. Some days I can't keep track of all the covering-up that goes on, especially in a little village like Portland, Oregon. Two cases are in the headlines this week, and I was getting them mixed up. Now I think I have them straight.

The first case involves a lawsuit being brought against Nike by female ex-employees who say they were harrassed and discriminated against in a "boys' club" work environment out in Swooshland. One of the plaintiffs' lawyers inadvertently handed over to an Oregonian reporter, Matthew Kish, some documents that the court had sealed in the case. The lawyer demanded them back, Kish and his bosses said no, and at one point a federal magistrate judge, Jolie Russo, ordered the O not to publish any of what was in the documents. The judge has since thought better of the matter, though, and yesterday she reversed course and concluded that the First Amendment forbids her from telling the O what they can and can't do with the information.

Good for the O. The lawyer screwed up, but the O didn't do anything wrong. If I were the editor, I'd post the entire file on a website somewhere and let everybody have a look.

It's not 100 percent clear to me what these hot documents are. It sounds like they are the uncensored results of some employee surveys. Whatever they are, there are parts of them that some hotshots would rather you didn't read.

* * * * * * *

Which brings us to the other case that's currently making waves on the hide-and-seek front, and this one is potentially even more important. The arrogant obfuscators in the Portland city attorney's office are refusing to give up a list of the big companies that pay the city's "clean energy" slush fund tax, along with the amounts that were paid.

A public records request for that information by OPB was upheld in large part by the county D.A., Mikey Schmidt. Schmidt told the city it has to give up the names of each taxpayer, and the amounts the various taxpayers paid, but without any connection linking the names with the amounts. Something like this, two lists (these are all fake entries, for illustration purposes only):

Taxpayers (alpha order)

    • Albertson's
    • AT&T
    • Fred Meyer
    • Safeway...

Amounts (size order)

    • $1,023,897
    • $874,637
    • $748,039
    • $689,841...

You get the picture (I hope).

But the city is being its usual jerky self about it. Rather than just, you know, comply with the law, they're actually suing OPB trying to get a judge to block the disclosure. And not only that, at this very moment the city is down in Salem jockeying around trying to get an "emergency" law passed so that they don't have to tell even a limited version of the truth. And they've got big business lobbyists in tow, twisting the arms of the legislator bobbleheads.

Shame on them! Secrecy of tax information is an important subject on which careful deliberation is needed. No legislation on it should be rushed through in a quickie session like the one in progress now.

There's a lot to think about in this little drama. For one thing, if this information were concerning federal taxes, there’s no way the IRS would ever be required, or even allowed, to divulge it. Exhibit A: The guy who leaked Trump’s tax returns must be starting his prison sentence right about now.

But that’s not to say that the federal laws should be copied where state, and especially local, government is involved. For example, consider this: You can go on Portland Maps and see what your Portland neighbor's house is assessed at, and how much she paid in property tax a few months ago. Apparently there’s nothing sacred about the secrecy of that.

Besides, the folks in Salem need to be looking at a much bigger picture. Given the insatiable appetite of local Portland-area governments for new taxes, it’s high time we had a state law that establishes an Oregon Local Taxpayer Bill of Rights. Keeping tax information secret is just one protection taxpayers need when dealing with vicious people like the Portland revenue bureau and city attorney.

On the technical side, I would note that the first sentence of the law that they're talking about amending says that it

shall be unlawful for the Department of Revenue or any officer or employee of the department to divulge or make known in any manner the amount of income, expense, deduction, exclusion or credit or any particulars set forth or disclosed in any report or return required in the administration of any local tax pursuant to ORS 305.620 or required under a law imposing a tax upon or measured by net income.

I didn’t think the Portland clean energy tax was based on net income. I thought it was imposed on gross sales.

Anyway, there's Portland City Hall again, on the wrong side of a hot-button issue, as it is most of the time. I hope the new mayor and city manager kick some butt and clean up the bureaucrats' bad attitude.


  1. Hey I got an idea. Why not take all of our money and then give some of it back based on how we are complying with the latest thing? Hurt somebody's feelings and you don't get your allotment of government cheese for the week.

  2. As I’ve opined for years…rotten to the core!


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