It might not be official state policy, but it’s a recurring theme in Oregon government: Conceal mistakes from the public.
The latest galling example comes from the Oregon Military Department. It overpaid the pension benefits for firefighters for decades. The department knew about the mistake in 2016, but didn’t make it public until April 9.
Why April 9? April 9 was the last day for most bills to move out of the chamber in which they originated. State officials orchestrated a quick gut and stuff of House Bill 2196. An amendment on April 9 transformed the bill from something asking the department to find ways to improve to a bill to change the law so the firefighters retroactively qualified for the benefits, Willamette Week reported. The mistake “affects 26 firefighters who have already retired; 47 who are currently working; and six more who have been hired and trained but haven’t started working as firefighters yet,” Willamette Week said. One firefighter was overpaid as much as $650,000.
There may have been no good way to resolve the problem. It would be inappropriate for the state to go to the firefighters and ask for the money back. It was the state’s mistake, after all.
It’s exasperating, though, and by now predictable that state officials failed to notify the public about the mistake for years. That’s how much respect some state officials have for the public’s right to know what government is doing with taxpayer money.
Gov. Kate Brown’s office knew about the problem last spring and failed to disclose it. Surely the timing — Brown’s re-election race for governor against then-state Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend — had nothing at all to do with it.