By Associated Press • 

New secretary of state names ousted officials to top posts

PORTLAND — Oregon's new Secretary of State, Dennis Richardson, has named an ousted elections official to a top administrative position along with a former state manager who was tied to a multimillion-dollar tech failure.

Richardson has appointed Leslie Cummings as deputy secretary of state. Cummings managed tech-security for the Oregon Employment Department until 2013, when she resigned after being caught up in accusations of nepotism and wasting millions in public funds.

For elections director, Richardson selected Steve Trout, who held the position from 2009 to 2013 under then-Secretary of State Kate Brown. Trout left after Brown faced criticism for giving candidates short notice that the date of their election would change — a responsibility of the elections director.

Richardson, 67, defeated Democrat Brad Avakian in November, becoming the first Republican to win a statewide race since 2002.

His communications director, Michael Calcagno, defended the appointments, telling The Oregonian/OregonLive that Cummings and Trout are "amazingly qualified and credentialed."

Cummings, who holds a doctorate in leadership, jointly oversaw a tech project to allow businesses to enter unemployment information with the department. But the system didn't work as planned, audits show. That slowed other projects, pushed them over budget and forced businesses to enter information manually.

Despite the problems, the project had at least one defender: her husband, Bob Cummings, a fiscal analyst on state technology for the Legislature. He spoke favorably about his wife's project to agency managers and told them he wouldn't note its problems in budget documents, records show.

His intervention sparked complaints that led to an Oregon Department of Justice investigation and ethics commission probe. Justice officials declined to pursue charges citing insufficient evidence, and the ethics case was dismissed.

Leslie Cummings denied the allegations investigated by officials and said she had little to do with the tech project's failures. Audits that found the undertaking rife with waste were biased, she said.

After her resignation, Cummings found work as a senior analyst conducting security and risk management audits for the Oregon Department of Human Services and Oregon Health Authority.

Trout said Brown, who is now governor, asked him to resign but said it had nothing to do with the election scheduling entanglement.

After leaving state government, Trout took a job as director of election innovation at Boston-based startup Clear Ballot Group. In returning to the public sector, Trout said he hopes to rebuild trust in elections by bolstering transparency and applying laws without partisanship.

“Elections are under attack in the press and in social media,” he said. “I've spent my whole career trying to defend the election process and make sure the public's will is reflected in the votes no matter who the winner is.”

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Information from: The Oregonian/OregonLive, http://www.oregonlive.com

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