salem police

Letter from the Editor: District attorney should have avoided blatant conflict in Salem public records case

In decades of advocating for the public’s right to know, I am rarely surprised by government obstinacy. But a recent public records decision by the Marion County District Attorney’s office is truly confounding.

Here are the facts, as I understand them: A news team managed by a former colleague, longtime investigative journalist Les Zaitz, sought records related to the mysterious and sudden departure of Salem deputy police chief Steve Bellshaw.

This is classic local journalism. Salem residents have every right to know why a top-ranking city official – one with the power to arrest, one who may testify against citizens in court and one who had been granted a parting gift of $53,500 of taxpayer dollars – had simply disappeared from the city ​​rolls.

Zaitz’s Salem Reporter, a small but aggressive newsroom, asked for city records, including misconduct complaints and records compiled for any personnel investigation.

The city denied the Reporter’s request for records related to the departure, and the newsroom appealed to the district attorney. Paige Clarkson’s office denied the appeal.

That, in itself, is shocking to me. The facts appear to strongly favor disclosure. But what Zaitz then reported is the real bellringer:

Amy Queen, the district attorney who signed the opinion on behalf of Clarkson’s office, is married to a Salem police officer and has accepted campaign contributions from the police union, Zaitz wrote.

“That means Queen is ruling on whether her husband’s employer is improperly withholding information from the public,” Zaitz said in a column for the Reporter. “In addition, one of the largest donors to Queen’s current campaign to become a state judge: the Salem Police Employees Union, which gave $3,000 on Aug. 18.

“That seems a significant conflict – and one not disclosed by Queen, Clarkson or the resulting order that said the public

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