Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lincoln City Refuses to Provide Data to High-schoolers Studying Vacation Rentals

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 9:00 pm | Updated: 9:50 am, Wed Sep 21, 2011.
A high school research project into the economic impact of vacation rental dwellings (VRDs) in Lincoln City hit an unexpected roadblock in August when the City refused to disclose the addresses of local rentals due to security concerns.
Barton Howe, journalism teacher at Taft High 7-12, said the lack of addresses left his students unable to interview enough VRD guests to create a statistically significant survey.
City Manager David Hawker said the City has deliberately not created a list of local VRDs due to concerns about broadcasting the location of often-empty homes.
"It's a great advertisement for burglars," he said. "I mean, there's your shopping list."
Hawker said creating such a list would mean the City would be bound by Oregon public records law to release it to anyone who asks.
Howe said that while the City's stance might satisfy the letter of the law, it violates the spirit.
"Clearly, they have that information somewhere," he said. "Because they are able, at a moment's notice, to print out a map that has every VRD in the city highlighted in red."
The City stores information about local VRDs in a database, which Hawker conceded could be judged to be a public record if someone takes the matter to appeal.
"I don't know whether it's close enough that it has been created because there's a bunch of electrons that have already lined up," Hawker said, adding: "I haven't spent a lot of time on that because I'm stonewalling it. I'm just admitting that we are stonewalling this issue because of the concern for crime."
The question of whether database contents count as a public record is addressed in the Oregon Attorney General's Public Records and Meetings Manual, which says public bodies are required to use computer software to provide electronic information if the body already uses such software for its own purposes.
Hawker said that, in the absence of a clear directive from Council, anyone wanting the list will have to take their case to the Lincoln County district attorney, whom Oregon law designates as the appeal authority for local government public records requests.
"If someone wants that list bad enough, they go to the DA - the DA tells us to publish it, then fine," he said, adding: "I would like nothing better than to be told, by either the council or the DA, to release a list."
Hawker said his hesitancy stems from the 2009 rewrite of VRD regulations, during which some councilors expressed concern at the idea of the City publishing a list of vacation rental addresses online to alert neighbors to permit applications and renewals.
As a result, rather than publish a single list, the City sends out thousands of individual notifications to neighbors each year, with VRD applicants paying postage costs.

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