Ginger McCall, Oregon’s first-ever public records advocate, abruptly announced her resignation today after what she described as “meaningful pressure” from the office of Gov. Kate Brown to represent her interests on the state’s Public Records Advisory Council.
Canby’s state House representative, Christine Drazan, released a statement soon after, applauding McCall’s decision to step down, amid ethics concerns and what she, Drazan, characterized as “enormous pressure” that impeded her ability to perform the role of public records advocate.
“The public records advocate is an important and necessary role in our government, and transparency is critical in any ethical administration,” Rep. Drazan said. “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, and I would like to thank her for the significant work she did for the people of Oregon.”
McCall, a former Washington, D.C., attorney who specialized in open government, public records and privacy laws, was appointed to the new Office of the Public Records Advocate by Brown just 18 months ago to boost transparency and openness in state and local government. Brown proposed the office’s creation to the Legislature as part of what she called “the most substantial public records reforms of the past 40 years.”
But in her letter of resignation to Gov. Brown, McCall wrote that she came to believe she and the governor’s office had “conflicting visions” of the public records advocate’s role. She said she accepted the job in the understanding that she would operate with a “high degree of independence and … 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,” she wrote. “I have received meaningful pressure from the governor’s general counsel to represent the governor’s office’s interests on the Public Records Advisory Council, even when those interests conflict with the will of the council and the mandate of the Office of the Public Records Advocate. I have not only been pressured in this direction but I have been told that I should represent these interests while not telling anyone that I am 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 went on to say she holds the governor in great esteem and “greatly admire[s] the spirit demonstrated in the creation of the Public Records Advocate.”
“The existence of such an office is an important step in ensuring transparency and accountability in the operation of government,” she wrote. “It is my hope that these are just growing pains along that path and that a way is still found to fulfill that original spirit.”
She also posted a public statement announcing her resignation, in which she described the intended role of her office in providing dispute resolution and assistance on public records requests and providing trainings to government employees and the public on public records law.
“It has been a pleasure serving the people of Oregon, training both members of government and the public, and hearing about people’s experiences with Oregon’s public records law,” she said. “I am very grateful to Gov. Kate Brown, the Legislature and the Public Records Advisory Council for this experience.”
In a statement released late Monday afternoon, Gov. Brown expressed dismay about McCall’s resignation, and the concerns that led her to it.
“The allegations made today by Ginger are a surprise to both me and my chief of staff,” she said. “I find the fact that this situation has reached the point where she feels the need to resign deeply regrettable. Had Ginger reached out to me sooner, I would have put my efforts into addressing her concerns and avoiding her resignation.”
The governor said that she agrees with McCall that the public records advocate should be “truly independent.”
“I look forward to meeting with Ginger immediately to hear directly from her how the council will develop recommendations to the Legislature to create a truly independent position,” she said. “It appears this is a situation where staff were conflicted between the goals of serving the governor and promoting the cause of transparency. Let me be clear, there should be no conflict.”
Deputy Public Records Advocate Todd Albert, whom McCall endorsed in her statement, will serve as her interim replacement until a new advocate is appointed. Her last day will be Oct. 11, after which she plans to return to Washington, D.C., to take a job with the federal government.
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