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

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CountyCasesDeaths
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Washington21099212
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Clackamas13328175
Lane10200126
Jackson8315111
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Yamhill376764
Linn357756
Malheur334458
Polk303942
Klamath278455
Douglas244754
Josephine232849
Benton232516
Jefferson195128
Coos144019
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Wasco122026
Lincoln112820
Hood River106429
Morrow104614
Clatsop7756
Crook77518
Baker6507
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Tillamook4142
Lake3746
Harney2736
Grant2221
Wallowa1424
Gilliam531
Sherman530
Wheeler221
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Santa Clara1102371777
Kern102627811
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Contra Costa62164674
Stanislaus55887946
Tulare47784746
Monterey42138327
San Mateo38872515
San Francisco34138398
Santa Barbara31763407
Solano30024164
Merced28915395
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Imperial26855589
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Placer19763232
San Luis Obispo19612227
Madera15414209
Santa Cruz14588183
Marin13136197
Yolo12787185
Shasta10969174
Butte10922160
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Sutter884597
San Benito575259
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Colusa212813
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