Oregon public records advocate quits, citing interference

Oregon's first public records advocate announced her resignation, saying Gov. Kate Brown's office abused its authority.

Posted: Sep 9, 2019 3:47 PM
Updated: Sep 9, 2019 5:00 PM

By ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's first public records advocate announced her resignation Monday, saying Gov. Kate Brown's office abused its authority and wanted her to secretly work for the governor while giving the impression she was working in the public interest.

Ginger McCall said when she accepted the governor's appointment as Oregon's Public Records Advocate in January 2018, filling a position created by the Legislature the previous year, it was with the understanding that she was to operate independently and with a mandate to serve the public interest.

Instead, McCall says Brown's top lawyer, Misha Isaak, pressured her to represent the governor's interests, while not telling anyone that she was 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," McCall said in her resignation letter to Brown, a copy of which The Associated Press obtained through a public records request.

Chris Pair, the Democratic governor's communications director, said the Legislature put the position under the governor's authority and did not have the inclination to make it independent of the executive branch.

However, the bill appears vague on that point.

Republican lawmakers cried foul.

"Transparency is critical in any ethical administration," said Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby. "I applaud Ginger for standing strong against enormous pressure to act in a manner which would have been counter to the mandate of her office."

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, whose is fighting to get public records in a case that has pitted him against Senate President Peter Courtney, said McCall's resignation is based on "ethics and abuse of power" in state government.

A sign that McCall and the governor's office had different impressions about the authority of the new position emerged during a meeting McCall had with Isaak on Jan. 15, after the Public Records Advisory Council published a report in November that described roadblocks to public records access. McCall leads that council.

The roadblocks to making state and local government more transparent included:

- Lack of a statewide standard in charging fees for public records requests, which "are a perennial source of animosity, confusion, and frustration for public bodies and requesters alike."

- An absence of recourses, except to the courts, if a records request is denied by an elected official. That creates a lack of accountability for elected officials because going to court is often prohibitively costly and time-consuming for a records requester.

- A very large number of exemptions to Oregon's public records law, numbering at least 550.

Isaak told McCall that if she planned to file future reports, to send them to the governor's office first so governor's office could comment, according to a memo of the meeting kept by McCall.

McCall said the governor's office and others had previously told her the public records advocate's position was intended to be independent. She said that when she asked in spring 2018 whom she would report to, the governor's office replied that she did not report to them.

McCall said she is leaving on Oct. 11 and will be returning to Washington to take a job with the federal government.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 397421

Reported Deaths: 5299
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah61160856
Washington42725408
Marion40378520
Clackamas33323391
Lane30531364
Jackson25267363
Deschutes24034198
Umatilla15178184
Linn15004184
Douglas13635295
Josephine10388249
Yamhill9916145
Klamath9144153
Polk8384103
Benton624440
Malheur594093
Coos5854109
Columbia442156
Jefferson427268
Lincoln369155
Crook345558
Union341857
Wasco320747
Clatsop265835
Baker223133
Tillamook220646
Hood River218637
Morrow198925
Curry194639
Harney121933
Grant109216
Lake106418
Wallowa76513
Sherman1953
Gilliam1854
Wheeler1161
Unassigned00

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Cases: 5128725

Reported Deaths: 74953
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles153845127262
San Diego4104514351
Riverside3912955388
San Bernardino3784085998
Orange3370455783
Sacramento1699162462
Kern1590231841
Fresno1581872284
Santa Clara1536961933
Alameda1262241514
San Joaquin1084911837
Ventura1049251194
Contra Costa1046451058
Stanislaus923321436
Tulare869791102
San Francisco57458674
San Mateo56861631
Monterey52973626
Solano48014360
Santa Barbara47846555
Merced45506672
Sonoma43609414
Placer42736473
Imperial39148778
Kings35547369
San Luis Obispo31803360
Madera26511315
Shasta26353465
Butte25690320
Santa Cruz22540224
Yolo21792263
Marin18728249
El Dorado18544168
Sutter14691186
Napa13501107
Yuba1084791
Humboldt10360119
Tehama10329133
Nevada10187105
Mendocino873799
Lassen801259
San Benito793980
Tuolumne782691
Lake7073113
Amador583267
Siskiyou480757
Glenn460336
Calaveras449988
Del Norte380442
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Inyo259446
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Mariposa163818
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