Public Records Fallout: State Council Pushes for Independence

On Monday, state public records czar Ginger McCall resigned, effective October 12. On Friday, the council she oversees voted to seek greater independence from the governor’s office.

McCall cited interference from the administration as her motivation for leaving.

In an 8-2 vote, the Public Records Advisory Council voted to develop legislation changing state law so that the council, rather than the governor, would hire the state’s Public Records Advocate. The proposal could go to lawmakers as early as February.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission and Oregon Liquor Control Commission may serve as examples for a new structure. In both those instances, the governor appoints the commissioners, and they in turn hire an administrator to run their agencies.

The council also voted to address funding concerns. Currently, the Legislature decides what amount the council gets, but the governor sets its budget. 

How Did This Start

McCall’s resignation was first reported by Willamette Week.  On Monday, McCall not only announced her resignation,  but also released memos she’d written detailing two meetings with the governor’s staff earlier this year.

First, in January, McCall met with Brown’s general counsel, Misha Isaak – along with Brown staffer, Emily Matasar. In that meeting, McCall says Isaak told her that he was her direct supervisor – though she had always considered the position to be independent.

According to McCall, Isaak went on, taking issue with a bill the Advisory Council had forwarded for the upcoming legislative session. House Bill 2431 would have required state agencies to report certain data regarding public records each year.

But McCall said Isaak conveyed his view that the bill was flawed because it did not hold local governments to the same requirements.

McCall wrote in her memo the day after the meeting, “Misha conveyed to me that by doing that the Council had put the Governor in an awkward position of having to potentially oppose bills herself instead of relying on stakeholders and lobbyists for cities, counties, and special districts to oppose the bills.”

She added: “He implied that it was my job to control what proposals were put forth to the Council and, ultimately, what proposals were agreed upon by the Council and, in doing that, I should be operating with the Governor’s office agenda in mind.”

Toward the end of the meeting, McCall wrote, Isaak asked her to be “less ambitious, not move so fast, and recognize that I do not know about the politics or nuance of Oregon.”

Ultimately, the bill did not pass.

The second meeting was in June, with Matasar. McCall says Matasar took her to task for an email McCall sent to the Public Records Advisory Council regarding the group’s budget.

“She stated that the email made it look like I was trying to get others to lobby the Governor’s office on behalf of my office and that several unnamed people from the Council had forwarded it to her,” McCall wrote. “She said that others in her office had been unhappy with this, including Misha and that I was ‘going to’ do two things immediately: send out an email telling the PRAC that I was mistaken about the budget and add her to the PRAC email list.”

“I once again asked what role it was that the Governor’s office thought I should have,” McCall wrote. “I then asked her directly if it was her opinion that I needed to receive approval before Council proposals or reports. She demurred on this, stating that we apparently needed to have more meetings with Misha, etc. about my role.”

According to reporting by the Oregonian, a draft Department of Justice opinion states that the governor’s administration does not have authority to supervise the advocate.

By Andy Thompson