As your local news source, it is our job to ask questions, particularly of public officials and contractors — and when your tax dollars are being spent.
In Polk County — so far — your news team has found questions rather easily answered. They aren’t always answered by press deadlines, but your public officials and contractors make good efforts to be available. They understand that it is our jobs to tell you, our readers, what is going on. Polk County officials — so far — have not ducked their responsibility to the taxpayers nor to the free press like players in a dodgeball tournament — let alone sicking the sheriff after us.
As reporters working in a profession protected by the First Amendment, it comes as quite a surprise that in a different Oregon county, Malheur County, officials have done just that. County officials have asked the sheriff there to investigate whether or not reporters are breaking any laws by using emails and phone numbers to ask questions of county contractors entrusted with economic development dollars, and outside of “normal operating hours.”
Reporters often have personal cellphone numbers and emails of sources. As with many other professions, “normal operating hours” is subjective. Journalism can be a 24/7 job. We know many of our county officials — and city and school officials — also are working beyond the 5 o’clock hour.
We hope that the Malheur County sheriff will quickly dismiss this request so that our fellow reporters can get back to focusing on what matters to their community.
We are grateful to work in a community who welcomes more transparency at all levels of government. While there is always work to do, we are happy to do it and happy that — for now — we can do it with officials who aren’t about to threaten us with criminal activity for asking questions.