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Senator Doug Whitsett
R- Klamath Falls, District 28, 2/25/11

Oregon Governor Kitzhaberís demand to suppress the speech of Oregon public employees
On February 7, 2011 Governor Kitzhaberís Chief of Staff Curtis Robinhold sent a disturbing memo to all state agency directors providing direction to the state agencies on expressing positions on pending state legislation.

Agency Directors Memo from Governor

The most troubling part of the memo states: ďThere should be no surprises to the Governorís Office on the input agencies provide in formal committee testimony or otherwise regarding pending legislation. As such, even if expressing a ďneutralĒ position and providing factual information, agencies must provide a heads up to the governorís Legislative Director and assigned Policy Advisor in advance. Agencies must obtain authorization from the Governorís Legislative Director or their assigned Policy Advisor before supporting or opposing bills, whether at their own initiation or when asked for input from stakeholders or legislatorsĒ.

This memo appears to require state employees to obtain permission from Governor Kitzhaberís office before expressing any position or responding to any question from a Legislator regarding any pending legislation whether asked in committee or anywhere else.

The memo goes on to describe the conditions under which the public employees may be allowed to give factual testimony in committee or to answer direct questions asked by legislators. Those conditions include whether the response is consistent with the Governorís current budget recommendations and legislative agenda and whether the response will create excessive controversy that could distract from the Governorís higher level agenda and message.

It is understandable that the governor wishes to present a consistent message to both the Legislature and the people of Oregon. However, his apparent requirement that all state employeesí speech must be edited through his office cast a chilling perspective on his pledge to preside over an open and transparent government.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of Legislators to oversee state agency actions and outcomes as well as to determine the cost effectiveness of how the taxpayersí money is being spent. Kitzhaberís directive appears to limit that oversight to only what the Governor wants the legislators to hear. It also will place state employees in the untenable position of being told not to respond to direct questions from Legislators without those answers being edited by his staff.

My office has submitted requests to Legislative Counsel for legal opinions regarding Governor Kitzhaberís authority to suppress the speech of Oregon public employees.  The PDF link from the Governor to the Agency Directors is attached in the lower left hand corner of this text frame box.

Best Regards,

Doug

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              Page Updated: Saturday February 26, 2011 02:41 AM  Pacific


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