It’s hard to know which would be uglier. Is it worse that Gov. Kate Brown and her chief of staff didn’t know the governor’s attorneys were trying to control state Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall, who is supposed to operate independently?
Or would it be worse that Brown and her chief of staff didn’t read or understand the memo her staff prepared for Brown describing what they were doing?
Either way, it’s a troubling track record for the operation of the governor’s office and for Gov. Brown’s support of transparency.
McCall’s letter of resignation Monday has kicked off a series of news stories and questions about Brown’s commitment to government transparency. The more we learn the less pretty it gets.
As you may remember, McCall said Monday she resigned because she was getting pressure from the governor’s office. An attorney told her to represent the governor’s interests on transparency, even if they conflict with the state’s Public Records Advisory Council or the Office of the Public Records Advocate. And to make matters worse, the attorney told her to not tell anyone that she was doing it.
After McCall made her announcement, Chris Pair, Brown’s communications director, responded by saying “the allegations made by Ms. McCall are untrue.” That statement turned out to be untrue. Gov. Brown said her staff was conflicted between serving her and pushing for transparency. “Let me be clear, there should be no conflict,” she said.
What’s new pertains to another thing Brown said Monday: … “the allegations made today by Ginger (McCall) are a surprise to both me and my chief of staff (Nik Blosser).” That’s important because her staff prepared a memo in May for Brown for a May 9 meeting with McCall. In that memo, staff attorneys state they told McCall parts of her report on state transparency lacked context or nuance and wanted to be able to comment on it before it was finalized. Maybe Brown and Blosser didn’t read the memo. Maybe they failed to recognize her staff — no matter how well-intentioned — were attempting to assert some control of what is specified under Oregon law to be an independent advocate for transparency.
Of course, no office functions perfectly. People make mistakes. Gov. Brown has many things to oversee. But she and her staff got this one wrong.