By Associated Press • 

Governor ends contract with Kitzhaber adviser-business owner

PORTLAND - A forest policy adviser to former Gov. John Kitzhaber collected nearly $400,000 in fees and expenses from the state while also running a consulting business.

For nearly three years, Tom Tuchmann was both the former governor's part-time forestry adviser and owner of Portland-based U.S. Forest Capital, a private consulting firm that orchestrated the types of deals that Tuchmann helped Kitzhaber promote, The Oregonian reported Wednesday.

Tuchman said he did nothing wrong, and his arrangements were transparent.

Environmentalists and a timber industry leader said they questioned the arrangement privately, but they didn't want to challenge Tuchman's state job for fear of alienating Kitzhaber.

On the day she took office pledging that no one in her administration would earn money from outside sources, Gov. Kate Brown severed the contract.

“In terms of our path moving forward, the contract didn't meet the direction we wanted to go in,” Brown said. “Obviously, I've set forth my principles in terms of ethics, and I want to stick by them.”

Kitzhaber resigned in an ethics scandal that revolved around his partner, Cylvia Hayes, and allegations that she used her position as an adviser to Kitzhaber to bring in consulting contracts.

Tuchmann, 54, helped draft the Northwest Forest Plan when Bill Clinton was president, when logging on federal lands in much of the Northwest was curtailed to protect habitat for endangered birds and fish.

Kitzhaber hired him to work on forest issues such as federal forests known as the O&C lands. He also helped Kitzhaber put together financing for buyers such as conservation groups to buy land for mixed uses, such as both conservation and logging.

U.S. Forest Capital is among a few companies that work on such purchases, collecting fees on deals the company arranges between buyers, often conservation groups, and private forest owners.

Tuchmann didn't fill out state conflict-of-interest forms in 2012 and 2013. But he did in 2014 when he decided U.S. Forest Capital would put together a proposal to buy 93,000 acres of the Elliott State Forest.

The form explained that he was a Kitzhaber adviser, and he would work with a group to create a purchase proposal, from which his company would get a percentage if the deal went through.

Steve Pedery, conservation director for Oregon Wild, said he already had misgivings when he went to an October 2014 meeting Tuchmann organized to discuss Forest Capital's proposal.

“I remember Tom saying, ‘I am not working on the Elliott for the state, but I do have the governor's ear on forest policy,’” Pedery said. “That just set me on edge.”

Tuchmann said he didn't say that and that he can't control others’ perceptions.

Robert Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, submitted a competing proposal for the Elliott. He suggested the state keep ownership and allow his cooperative of 140 southwest Oregon companies to manage it and more reliably meet logging requirements.

Not long after, Ragon said, Tuchmann came to his Roseburg office, saying he was “wearing his Forest Capital hat.”

Tuchmann tried to convince him that the Forest Capital option was better, Ragon said. “It seemed apparent to all of us that he's sitting there in the governor's office while the rest of us are commuting back and forth,” Ragon said.

Tuchmann said he went only to brief Ragon on Forest Capital's plan. He said he didn't recall saying anything about pushing Ragon to back away from his proposal.

In his dealings, Tuchmann said, he has “consistently made my involvement crystal clear.”

He said he considered Kitzhaber and the state his clients — sometimes referring to them as such publicly. He also said he took on no new Oregon clients during his state tenure.

“Ethics are very important to me,” Tuchmann said. “I've been very upfront.”

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