Portland, OR—Governor Kate Brown issued Executive Order 20-16
this week, directing state and local governments to take necessary measures to facilitate public participation in decision-making, helping ensure the continued operation of local government and the delivery of essential services during the COVID-19 outbreak. Local governments across Oregon are expected to begin their budget processes this month, and this order gives them the authority and flexibility in organizing the civic engagement necessary to move forward those processes and approve spending on essential services.
“Public participation in government decision-making is fundamental to our representative form of government,” said Governor Kate Brown. “While the COVID-19 crisis has changed the way we live, work, and operate, we still must ensure that every voice is heard by elected officials and other policymakers and that the critical functions of local government can continue unimpeded.”
The order directs state and local government bodies to hold public meetings and hearings by telephone or electronic means whenever possible. When in-person meetings are necessary, it directs governments to use appropriate social distancing measures to ensure the safety of participants. The order waives in-person requirements for public testimony if testimony can be provided by telephone or electronic means.
For local government budget processes, the executive order authorizes cities, counties, school districts, and other special districts to hold budget hearings and elicit citizen participation by telephone, electronic means, or in writing, so those governments can complete their budgeting process safely and on-time, to ensure continued provision of essential government services. The order will allow local governments to complete their budget processes, so that essential services such as police, fire, and emergency response, street maintenance, water and sewer, and building permitting continue uninterrupted.
All government entities are still expected to ensure their processes provide equal access to all Oregonians, and that their processes for virtual public participation do not impact accessibility.