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Independent review says TriMet not hiding documents

TriMet says an independent review has cleared of accusation of hiding public records, including records sought during court cases.

According to a press release issued Wednesday, TriMet says it hired the law firm of Stoll Berne in May to review how the agency handles public records requests and how it produces documents for legal cases. TriMet says it wanted an independent review to set the record straight after separate media reports charged that it was not forthcoming with public records and that it hid documents in a federal court case.

“TriMet works diligently to process all requests in a timely fashion,” said Stoll Berne Managing Shareholder Scott Shorr. “The agency approaches records requests with good faith: They are open and share records. We saw no attempt to hide records, or delay or deny requests."

Berne also recommended changes to help TriMet better cope with the increasing number of complicated requests it is receiving. It currently receives around two requests a day and is on track to received about 600 this year.

"Given the sheer volume and complexity of requests, as well as not having a centralized system for storing, organizing and searching electronically, there are certain inefficiencies in handling requests,” Berne said.

According to TriMet, Stoll Berne independently selected and reviewed three closed county and federal cases, and found that the department was making reasonable efforts to locate and retrieve relevant documents. They went on to note that TriMet should develop a formalized “legal hold” and a search process so that both the parties to a lawsuit and the court could be confident that all reasonable efforts were made to locate documents.

The independent reviewers also found the areas that needed improvement:

• Training of executive directors and records personnel. TriMet says this has been completed and will be done annually.

• Hiring a consultant to guide the records management system.

• Cataloging all documents and making them electronically searchable and compliant with Oregon Records Retention Requirements.

• Purging unnecessary documents.

• Investing in e-discovery/software enhancements

TriMet says it takes the recommendations seriously. It began implementing many of the changes that Stoll Berne ultimately recommended immediately.

“We stand by our dedication to transparency and we release all records and documents appropriately,” said TriMet General Counsel Jana Toran. “We approach all records requests with the assumption that the records are public and releasable, unless there is an exemption or conditional exemption that applies.”

Toran also said TriMet will look at electronic discovery tools, although the agency has to balance the estimated $3 million to $5 million cost against its core business of expanding service.

“What will improve our efforts going forward is implementing software programs that support electronic discovery tools,” said Toran. “The cost can be extreme so we first need to look at how we can leverage what we already have and then we can add supplemental software where additional resources are needed.”