State’s First Ever Public Records Advocate Resigns, Alleges Interference

Ginger McCall started work as Oregon’s first-ever Public Records Advocate in early 2018. On Monday she abruptly resigned citing problems with Governor Brown’s staff.

In a letter to Brown’s office, McCall stated she would be leaving her position next month because of pressures to act in the governor’s interest, rather than as an impartial arbiter for the public. McCall specifically cited pressure from the governor’s general counsel, Misha Isaak.

“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,” McCall wrote. “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 … Meetings with the Governor’s General Counsel and staff have made it clear, however, that the Governor’s staff do not share that view.”

Brown spokesman Chris Pair denied the allegation on Monday,  writing in an email to OPB, “The allegations made by Ms. McCall are untrue.”

Later that day, Brown herself released a statement that was more conciliatory.

“It appears this is a situation where staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the Governor and promoting the cause of transparency,” the statement said in part. “Let me be clear, there should be no conflict.”

What Was McCall’s Job?

Brown first championed the creation of McCall’s position as the state’s Public Records Advocate and Deputy, along with The Public Records Advisory Council she leads. Lawmakers passed legislation for both, and tasked the governor’s office with making the necessary appointments.

The council is supposed to independently review how public agencies respond to requests under Oregon’s public records law, and when needed, make recommendations for improvements.

What Exactly Happened

McCall’s resignation was first reported by Willamette Week.  On Monday, McCall 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, 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 position to be independent.

According to McCall, Isaak went on, taking issue with a bill the Advsisory 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 next 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.”

The bill did not ultimately 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.”

McCall Headed to DC, Governor Expresses Regret

McCall released a statement on Monday saying she would be moving to Washington, D.C. She has accepted a job as an attorney working for the federal government.

In a public statement, Brown expressed surprise on learning of McCall’s concerns.

“I find the fact that this situation has reached the point where she feels the need to resign deeply regrettable,” Brown said. “Had Ginger reached out to me sooner, I would have put my efforts into addressing her concerns and avoiding her resignation.”

By Andy Thompson

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