The city council on Tuesday discussed how to handle the leak of a document labeled “confidential” to a newspaper last week.

Prior to an executive session, Mayor Kent Studebaker asked whether anyone would admit to distributing a memo to the press.

Councilor Donna Jordan said she provided the memo because she didn’t think it met the legal standards for confidentiality.

“You can put ‘Mary had a little lamb’ and mark it ‘confidential,’” Jordan said. “It doesn’t make it confidential.”

The memo, dated Jan. 14, described Mayor Kent Studebaker’s plan to end former interim City Manager David Donaldson’s contract and hire Tom Coffee as the new temporary chief executive. It outlined that the council could only discuss the topic out of the public eye if dealing with Donaldson’s employment; Coffee’s hiring would have to be deliberated in the open.

Councilor Jon Gustafson questioned whether the council might find a procedure for raising an issue if concerned that material labeled “confidential” shouldn’t be withheld from the public.

The idea of council members individually determining whether the classification should be adhered to made some uneasy, although it’s unclear whether they might consider ramifications for breaches in the future.

Councilor Karen Bowerman said she would like “definitive” guidelines for how confidential materials are treated.

City Attorney David Powell said another possible question that could come up involves whether a document’s classification might change after it’s shared with the public or after the information preventing its release is resolved in public.

In the future, Powell said, if council members have doubts about a document labeled as confidential, he’d be happy to explain his reasoning for using the classification. The entire council could then discuss whether it wants to waive rules protecting classified information from release.

Powell advised council members during the discussion that they were speaking on the public record. The conversation occurred before an executive session, a meeting closed to the public so the council could debate sensitive topics like litigation.

The group did not reach a conclusion on how to handle the leaked memo or the potential for future leaks.

During the regular meeting that followed an executive session, the council created a preliminary list of priorities for 2013. Possible focus areas for the year include:

  • Finishing the comprehensive plan update, including a new transportation system plan

  • Determining the future of the West End Building property, including whether to build a new public safety facility there

  • Settling on a facilities strategy for the South Shore Fire Station and maintenance building

  • Moving ahead on plans for reconstructing Boones Ferry Road in the Lake Grove area

  • Reviewing Lake Oswego-Tigard Water Partnership projects

  • Resolving issues with sensitive lands

  • Making the city more “business-friendly”

  • Evaluating the tree code

  • Deciding the future of the North Anchor project site

  • Addressing street maintenance, bike and pedestrian safety and pothole paving

    The council plans to hold a town hall meeting to hear input on priorities on Feb. 12.

    In other business Tuesday, the council made annual appointments of liaisons to various committees, including a new post: Council President Mike Kehoe will now attend school board meetings.

    In addition, one former position went unfilled. Studebaker declined to appoint anyone to serve on the comprehensive plan citizen advisory committee, telling councilors, “I think that’s a forum for later.” He declined to elaborate after the meeting but said he would answer questions by email late in the week.

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