Former Governor John Kitzhaber remains the subject of
occasional headlines reminding Oregonians of the
aftermath of his brief fourth term in office. Nearly
eight months after his resignation, news reports make
clear state taxpayers are not finished paying for the
mistakes of his troubled administration.
Our citizens demand and deserve to have their public
officials held to a higher standard. A few steps have
already been taken to help prevent the kind of alleged
misconduct that lead to Kitzhaber’s ouster. Additional
efforts are underway to further strengthen Oregon’s
Michael Rodgers is the
whistleblower who exposed apparent efforts by officials
to delete e-mails from state computer servers. A
settlement totaling almost $300,000
was recently reached
between the State and this former Department of
Administrative Services employee.
Another recent article
details an ongoing court battle between software firm
Oracle and the State regarding the delayed release of
Kitzhaber’s e-mails. In that court filing, Oracle’s
attorneys wrote that neither the offices of Governor
Kate Brown nor Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have
“provided any explanation for why during the five months
since Oracle submitted its public records request, no
one has yet reviewed these 1,000 documents or turned
them over to the State for release to the public.”
These related issues illustrate the depth of the
scandals that forced Kitzhaber’s resignation last
February, as well as inadequate action by the current
administration to address the consequences of those
issues. Some of the more disgraceful proceedings were
addressed through legislation passed during the 2015
Oregon law does not impose
deadlines for responding to public records requests.
Senate Bill 9
was signed into law by Governor Brown June 15 and took
effect the same day. The new law directs the Secretary
of State’s office to conduct a performance audit of
state agency public records retention and disclosure
The audit must examine a sampling of state agencies of
all sizes. It is required to make recommendations
regarding practices for receiving records requests,
gathering and disclosing the records, managing the
retention, categorization and storage of those records,
determining fee estimates and exemptions and ensuring
consistency among agencies in complying with public
That audit report is required to be submitted to
legislative entities and Governor Brown on November 20.
Appropriate legislation is anticipated during the 2016
session to address the audit findings.
House Bill 2019
expands the membership of the Oregon Government Ethics
Commission (OGEC) from seven to nine members on July 1,
2016. More importantly, it expands the Legislative role
in making appointments to the Commission. The bill has
been signed into law by Governor Brown.
One example of the reason this
bill became necessary is that Rodgers, the
felt that he couldn't go to OGEC
because its members were appointed by Kitzhaber.
Under the new law, the governor can only appoint one
member without recommendation by the Legislature. The
remainder of the appointments will be made by leadership
of both major political parties in both the House and
the Senate. HB 2019 also requires that no more than
three members of OGEC can be registered with the same
Perhaps the most important ethics
reform bills to be adopted was
This bill specifically deals with issues that arose as a
result of Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes. “First
Lady” has previously been an unofficial title for the
governor’s spouse or companion. Neither the title nor
the explanation of the duties accompanying it were
defined by state statute.
The ambiguity of the role was
first brought up in a
Willamette Week article
written by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Nigel Jaquiss
and published almost a year ago. His investigation into
the intersection of Hayes’ public role and private
business proved instrumental in bringing about
Kitzhaber’s resignation, as well as the multiple ongoing
federal investigations into the former first couple’s
HB 2020 amended statute to provide a definition for
“first partner” and adds that individual to the
definition of “public official.” It also allows for the
imposition of a $10,000 civil penalty for willful
violation of the section of statute prohibiting the use
of an official position or office to obtain financial
The passage of those three bills is a step in the right
direction. Unfortunately, several other bills that would
have provided much-needed ethics reform failed to pass
in the highly partisan atmosphere of the 2015 session.
Majority Democrats used their numerical advantage to
keep many of these bills from advancing through the
Oregon is currently the only state
in the nation that lacks a legal mechanism for
impeachment of executive branch officials by
House Joint Resolution 31
would have proposed an amendment to the state
Constitution to vest the power of impeachment of
statewide elected Executive Branch officials in the
House of Representatives and the power to try
impeachments in the Senate. Passage of HJR 31 would have
resulted in the proposed amendment being referred to
voters in the November 2016 general election.
If enacted by the people, the Joint Resolution would
have required a three-fifths majority vote in the House
to deliver an impeachment resolution to the Senate and a
two-thirds vote in that chamber for a conviction. A
conviction under these conditions would have resulted in
removal from office and the disqualification from
holding other public office. HJR 31 passed the House on
a wide, bipartisan margin, but attempts to pull it out
of committee failed on the Senate floor June 30 on a
Senate President Peter Courtney
(D-Salem) stated in
this Oregonian article
that his opposition was based on the fact that voters
can remove officials through the recall process.
However, that puts the onus entirely on citizens. The
growing list of requirements and regulations regarding
the process makes it increasingly difficult for anyone
but paid political professionals to successfully engage
in Oregon initiative petitions.
was chief sponsored by Rep. Gail Whitsett (R-Klamath
Falls). The bill would have authorized the Legislature
to appoint an independent counsel by joint resolution.
The resolution would request the Attorney General (AG)
to conduct a preliminary investigation into alleged
violations of ethics or criminal laws and report any
findings to the Legislature. If reasonable grounds for
further investigation were discovered, the AG could then
apply to a circuit court for the appointment of an
independent counsel. Sadly, efforts to bring this bill
out of committee failed on a largely partisan vote.
prohibiting retaliation against public employees for
disclosing public records or other information related
to unlawful conduct, was sponsored by Rep. Knute Buehler
(R-Bend). The bill required such retaliation to be
punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment, a $6,250
fine, or both. The bill also would have authorized
courts to award punitive damages.
Buehler’s bill was prompted by the
treatment of the e-mail whistleblower. Mr. Rodgers was
initially threatened with one count of official
misconduct for every e-mail he leaked to Jaquiss at
Willamette Week. It was subsequently revealed that
worked in the office where those threats originated.
Public pressure and outrage undoubtedly helped prompt
the decision not to prosecute Rodgers for his actions.
Despite the obvious need for whistleblower protection,
HB 3562 was refused the courtesy of a hearing by the
Democrat majority. Taxpayers are now on the hook for a
nearly $300,000 settlement to ensure that the
whistleblower does not and cannot successfully sue the
state for even more money.
Other bills that would have allowed for greater
transparency, oversight and better governance were also
blocked from passage by members of the majority party
and its leadership.
It is currently not a crime to
provide false information in the voter pamphlet
statements relied on by thousands of Oregonians in every
would have required all information published in the
voter pamphlet to be true. Violations would have been
punishable by five years’ imprisonment, a $125,000 fine,
or both. This bill was defeated on a party-line vote in
the Senate on June 17.
Legislators currently have
insufficient means to compel truthful testimony from
state agency personnel during committee hearings.
would have required statements made by some witnesses in
legislative committees to be made under oath and subject
to punishment for false swearing. The bill also died on
a party-line vote in the Senate.
Too often legislators receive testimony that is evasive,
purposely incomplete, misleading or simply false. I
believe a legislative tool that compels truthful answers
from agency personnel and others giving testimony would
go a long way towards preventing fiascos like the $300
million Cover Oregon website disaster and the Columbia
River Crossing boondoggle that cost taxpayers nearly
$200 million from taking place.
The upcoming February session will present another
opportunity for some of these concepts to be
reintroduced and possibly written into law. Ultimately,
the vigilance of concerned citizens is required to apply
the necessary pressure for reform, by participating in
the legislative process. Good governance depends on the
willingness of each and every one of us to demand
accountability, transparency and truthfulness. We
certainly can, and must, do better.
Please remember--if we do not stand up for rural Oregon,
no one will.
Senate District 28
I Phone: 503-986-1728
Address: 900 Court St NE, S-311, Salem, OR, 97301