I can hear the champagne corks popping in Johnson Hall. Jennifer McCall tried hard to improve the state’s transparency problems and had some success. Apparently a little too much success. From Nigel Jaquiss in WWeek:
… In a separate letter to Brown, McCall was more forthcoming about the reason for her surprise resignation. Here is the key section of that letter, which WW obtained under a public records request:
I do not think that the staff of the Governor’s Office and I can reconcile our visions regarding the role of the Public Records Advocate. When I accepted this job, it was with the understanding that the Office of the Public Records Advocate was to operate with a high degree of independence and had a mandate to serve the public interest. That is an understanding that I believe the public, the Legislature, and the Public Records Advisory Council share.
Meetings with the Governor’s General Counsel and staff have made it clear, however, that the Governor’s staff do not share that view. 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. 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.
While I have always endeavored to work collaboratively with all offices of government, I believe strongly that independence is both essential to the effectiveness of the Office of the Public Records Advocate and enshrined in the law. However, if I am incorrect regarding the legal basis of the Advocate’s independence, then the Advocate’s responsibility to represent the interests of the Governor’s office should be acknowledged before the public and the Council. 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.
(Brown’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment)
McCall, whom Gov. Kate Brown hired last year to be the state’s first public records advocate, came to Oregon in the wake of a scandal that ended the political career of former Gov. John Kitzhaber in 2015.
Her assignment was to help make state and local government more transparent by mediating disputes over public records; providing training and education about public records and leading the governor’s newly-formed Public Records Advisory Council.
Oregon’s Public Records Law says that, with some exceptions, all documents in the government’s possession belong to Oregonians and are subject to inspection by the public, including the media.