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Oregon public records advocate quits, citing interference

September 10, 2019
In this undated photo released by Oregon Secretary of State show Ginger McCall, the first public records advocate for the State of Oregon. McCall announced her resignation Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, saying Gov. Kate Brown's office abused its authority and wanted her to secretly work for the governor while giving the impression she was working in the public interest. (Oregon Secretary Of State Office via AP)
In this undated photo released by Oregon Secretary of State show Ginger McCall, the first public records advocate for the State of Oregon. McCall announced her resignation Monday, Sept. 9, 2019, saying Gov. Kate Brown's office abused its authority and wanted her to secretly work for the governor while giving the impression she was working in the public interest. (Oregon Secretary Of State Office via AP)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon’s first public records advocate announced her resignation Monday, saying Gov. Kate Brown’s office abused its authority and wanted her to secretly work for the governor while giving the impression she was working in the public interest.

Ginger McCall said when she accepted the governor’s appointment as Oregon’s public records advocate in January 2018, filling a position created by the Legislature the previous year, it was with the understanding that she was to operate independently and with a mandate to serve the public interest.

Instead, McCall says Brown’s top lawyer, Misha Isaak, pressured her to represent the governor’s interests, while not telling anyone that she was 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,” McCall said in her resignation letter to Brown, a copy of which The Associated Press obtained through a public records request.

Brown said in a statement she was surprised by McCall’s allegations and regrets that she feels a need to resign.

“I agree with Ginger that the public records advocate should be truly independent,” Brown said. “It appears this is a situation where staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the governor and promoting the cause of transparency.”

Two Republican lawmakers blamed the office of the Democratic governor.

“Transparency is critical in any ethical administration,” said Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby. “I applaud Ginger for standing strong against enormous pressure to act in a manner which would have been counter to the mandate of her office.”

Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who is fighting to get public records in a case that has pitted him against Senate President Peter Courtney, said McCall’s resignation is based on “ethics and abuse of power.”

Chris Pair, Brown’s communications director, said the Legislature put the position under the governor’s authority.

However, the bill appears vague on that point.

Different impressions emerged during a meeting McCall had with Isaak on Jan. 15, after the Public Records Advisory Council, which McCall leads, published a report in November that described roadblocks to public records access.

The roadblocks include lack of a standard in charging fees for records requests; an absence of recourses, except to the courts, if a records request is denied by an elected official; and a large number of exemptions to requests, numbering at least 550.

Isaak told McCall to send future reports to the governor’s office first so it could comment, she said.

Pair said that when the governor proposed the creation of the advocate’s office and the advisory council in 2017, she hoped they would act independently only in facilitating resolution of public records disputes and training public bodies on public records law.

McCall said she is leaving on Oct. 11 and will be returning to Washington to take a job with the federal government.

The resignation was first reported by the Willamette Week newspaper.

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