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Official wants independence for new Oregon transparency role

Ginger McCall
Ginger McCall

By ANDREW SELSKY
Of the Associated Press

SALEM — An Oregon official who is resigning her job aimed at making government more transparent is urging her successors to defend the independence of the new office in the face of attempted influence by the governor's office.

Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall, who announced her resignation on Monday, said staff from Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's office tried to pressure her into secretly representing the governor's interests.

McCall's memo to her successors also describes funding issues and political maneuvering which resulted in legislation proposed by a public records advisory council that she leads being killed.

Future advocates, “armed with the knowledge of these events, will be better prepared to be able to manage the politics inherent to this position and to zealously defend the independence of this office,” McCall wrote.

McCall was selected in 2018 to be Oregon's first-ever public records advocate, responsible for building an infrastructure to resolve open-records disputes and provide training on Oregon's open records laws.

She had previously worked both sides of open records clashes, with the U.S. Department of Labor defending against Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits, and with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a group that uses FOIA lawsuits to obtain information from the government about surveillance and privacy policy.

Brown said late Monday she was surprised by McCall's allegations and regrets that she resigned. The governor attributed the problems to her staffers being conflicted between the goals of serving her and promoting the cause of transparency.

“The continued reform of public records law in Oregon hinges on the success of the Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Council,” Brown said.

But Lee Van der Voo, who served on the public records advisory council, said McCall's departure calls into question Brown's commitment to accountability.

“Her resignation signals that significant transparency reforms are in danger of being yet another dog-and-pony show,” Van der Voo told Willamette Week newspaper.

Given the lack of clarity of her autonomy, McCall on June 11 asked Andrew Foltz, a senior assistant attorney general, for an opinion. McCall's position was created by the Legislature in 2017 at Brown's request.

In a draft memo and an email, Foltz replied that the governor probably could not force McCall to hide the fact that she was receiving instructions from Brown's office. Foltz's messages, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press through a public records request, said the advocate reports to the governor but that there is nothing in the legislation that says the governor's office exercises day-to-day supervision.

Nor does the governor have the authority to preview or edit the advocate's reports, Foltz wrote.

That issue came to a head after the Public Records Advisory Council, which McCall leads, published a report in November that described roadblocks to public records access. Brown's top lawyer, Misha Isaak, told McCall to send future reports to the governor's office first, McCall said.

Isaak also said he was concerned she would tell reporters that the governor's office was trying to censor her, McCall said in a memo of the Jan. 15 meeting, saying the expectation of secrecy “felt both unethical and dishonest.”

Rep. Bill Post, a Republican from the Salem suburb of Keizer, demanded on Tuesday that Brown rescind her recent appointment of Isaak to the Oregon Court of Appeals.

“It is in the best interest for ‘transparency’ to not go forward,” Post wrote Brown.

He said the public records advocate should be under the secretary of state or a stand-alone office.

The governor's office does not disagree with Foltz's opinion, Brown's spokeswoman, Kate Kondayen, said Tuesday.

Brown said she wants to meet with McCoy to develop recommendations to the Legislature to create a truly independent position.

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Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky

Comments

Tuvey

So let me see if I have this right. McCall posted a report that said there were blockages to producing a fully transparent report and the Governor did not like that. So her staff told McCall to send the report to Brown before publication. Sounds like censorship to me and not very transparent. So McCall thinks it's unethical to have Brown review her report before publication and Rep Post thinks McCall should be removed from her post due to her opinions about ethics. Bravo McCall for bringing this to the attention of the public. Why does it not surprise me that there were blockades to the correct information for her and that when those were pointed out Brown stepped in and wanted censorship? Makes me go back to an earlier question I had for Brown - why do schools need money when they are supposed to be getting it from the lottery?

actionjax

Great question Turvey and Brown doesn't want you to know the answer. In fact she wants no one to know the answer. She is a despicable human being. Typical behavior for her.

gregtompkins

Every governor Goldschmidt to current has been corrupt and leftist. Don’t these good people voting for these corrupt officials see what’s going on? Or do they just blindly vote for anyone who had a (D) after their name because they think that will lead to prosperity?

Don Dix

Everything Oregon government has two masters -- the D party and it's never-ending quest to invent, conspire, and sneak more ways into government to extract money from the citizens -- and the public unions that call most of the shots, benefit directly from specifically targeted legislation, and lavishly fund the re-elections of those Ds that reflect blind loyalty to the cause. The system is a closed loop and entry is highly restricted to true believers -- an open mind is never tolerated.

Brown is nothing but a union tool in an influential position. For nearly 30 years she has been on the public dole. Apparently, the transparency she promised to support is just a word, and only applies when she deems it so.

Oregon deserves better, but until the voters extract the public unions from the government's shorts (and it's $26.6B unfunded PERS liability), the state's citizens will continue to suffer the consequences. There is no state that openly displays government/union collusion so blatantly as the situation in Oregon. Election result reveal intelligent voters seem to be completely missing from this equation. Wake up Oregon -- and take your state back!

gregtompkins

Don Dix is that why they are importing illegals to become voters? What is going to happen when the older people who are unionized government officials on PERS start retiring? And what happens when all the low skilled work the illegals do gets automated? Can’t have everyone either on welfare or a government worker. I see trouble ahead for this situation. At least California (and Washington) for as liberal they are actually have some large companies there. What do we have just one big company HQ here that is in corruption with the governor, some traditional sectors they’re trying to chase out and lots of services? When will this all come crashing down?

Lulu

Politics and transparency? Oil and water.