Kotek Chief of Staff Abruptly Leaving, Another Top Aide on Leave

Gov. Tina Kotek’s top aide will leave her office next week, and two other top employees will quit or go on leave.

Andrea Cooper, who previously served as a deputy chief of staff for former Gov. Kate Brown and as the political director of the state’s largest public employee union, has been Kotek’s chief of staff since shortly after her election in November 2022. Kotek didn’t provide a reason for her sudden departure in a press release, and a spokeswoman declined to comment on personnel matters.

The announcement also didn’t say anything about Cooper’s future plans after she leaves the office on March 29, a week from Friday.

Kotek’s announcement didn’t mention two other departures first reported by Willamette Week and confirmed by Kotek spokeswoman Anca Matica. Lindsey O’Brien, Kotek’s deputy chief of staff for public engagement, is taking leave as of April 5. Matica declined to say whether O’Brien, who served as Kotek’s communications director and then chief of staff during Kotek’s tenure as House speaker, will return.

Abby Tibbs, a longtime lobbyist for Oregon Health & Science University who was on loan to Kotek as a senior adviser during her search for an Oregon Health Authority director, will return to the university on March 31.

Matica said she wasn’t aware of any other employees of the governor’s office who plan to leave.

This is the first major staff shakeup in Kotek’s administration, which has kept a consistent group of top aides since she took office and comes at a crucial time. The Legislature just approved $376 million to tackle Oregon’s housing crisis, one of Kotek’s top priorities, along with $211 million to address the drug addiction crisis. Kotek has promised to closely monitor the rollout of that money and the implementation of new programs.

Chris Warner, her deputy chief of staff for public administration, will serve as acting chief of staff while she searches for Cooper’s permanent replacement.

Cooper was the first Black woman to serve as a governor’s chief of staff in Oregon. Along with working for Brown’s office and for SEIU, the Service Employees International Union, she worked for Brown’s 2018 reelection campaign and ran Future PAC, the campaign arm of the House Democratic caucus.

Cooper earned $25,248 monthly, which translates to an annual salary of more than $300,000, according to the governor’s office.

Kotek thanked Cooper in a statement and she wished her well in future endeavors.

“I thank Andrea for bringing her experience to help lead my office during a whirlwind transition in the first year of my administration,” Kotek said. “We have all accomplished significant things for Oregonians, and she was instrumental in establishing a strong team of professionals.”

In a statement provided by the governor’s office, Cooper said it was an honor and privilege to serve Kotek and Brown.

“I’m proud of the work we have accomplished,” she said. “I am incredibly grateful to the 45,000 public employees who show up every day to serve our great state, and I want to thank my colleagues in the Governor’s Office, whose commitment to tackling challenges big and small, continued ingenuity and work ethic are inspiring.”

by Julia Shumway, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Do you have a story for The Advocate? Email editor@corvallisadvocate.com