SALEM, Ore. (CN) – Oregon Governor Kate Brown appointed the state’s first public records advocate in 2018 as part of a campaign to improve transparency, but her office stymied the chance of that happening, according to advocate Ginger McCall, who said in her resignation letter Monday that she was pressured to act secretly in the governor’s best interests.
The Oregon Legislature created the Public Records Advisory Council in 2017 to train government employees on public records law and to resolve public records disputes. Brown hired McCall as the council’s first chair.
Brown, a Democrat and former secretary of state who entered her current role after Governor John Kitzhaber resigned amid an influence-peddling scandal, won re-election in part by promising to promote transparency and trust in government.
McCall said in her resignation announcement that she will return to Washington D.C. to take a job with the federal government. Her deputy, Todd Albert, will take over her position until the council refers three candidates for her replacement to the governor.
“It has been a pleasure serving the people of Oregon, training both members of government and the public, and hearing about people’s experiences with Oregon’s public records law,” McCall said in the statement. “I am very grateful to Governor Kate Brown, the Legislature, and the Public Records Advisory Council, for this experience.”
But in a resignation letter she sent to Brown’s office, McCall alleges that the governor’s general counsel, Misha Isaak, hamstrung her ability to do her job. Willamette Week first reported on the letter, which the newspaper obtained via a public records request.
McCall claims Isaak applied “meaningful pressure” to secretly represent the governor’s best interests instead of fulfilling her office’s mission to advocate for a well-informed public.
“I have received meaningful pressure from the Governor’s General Counsel to represent the Governor’s Office’s interests on the Public Records Advisory Council, even when those interests conflict with the will of the Council and the mandate of the Office of the Public Records Advocate,” McCall wrote. “I have not only been pressured in this direction but I have been told that I should represent these interests while not telling anyone that I am doing so. I believe these actions constituted an abuse of authority on the part of the General Counsel, and are counter to the transparency and accountability mission that I was hired to advance.”
“If the Advocate were to represent the interests of an elected official while allowing the Council and the public to believe that she is acting independently, that would be both unethical and particularly inappropriate for an office that was founded to promote transparency,” she added.
In a statement Monday, Brown said she agrees with McCall that the public records advocate should be truly independent from the governor’s office.
“The allegations made today by Ginger are a surprise to both me and my Chief of Staff,” Brown said. “I find the fact that this situation has reached the point where she feels the need to resign deeply regrettable. Had Ginger reached out to me sooner, I would have put my efforts into addressing her concerns and avoiding her resignation. The continued reform of public records law in Oregon hinges on the success of the Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Council that my office created.”
Brown named Isaak the newest judge for the Oregon Court of Appeals on Aug. 30.
“It appears this is a situation where staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the Governor and promoting the cause of transparency,” Brown said. “Let me be clear, there should be no conflict.”