Gov. Kate Brown has had a rough few days recently. The woman she appointed to be Oregon’s first public records advocate resigned abruptly Sept. 9, saying the governor’s staff was interfering with her efforts to enhance government openness in the state. Ginger McCall particularly called out Misha Isaak, the governor’s general counsel and the man Brown had only recently appointed to a seat on the Oregon Court of Appeals.
At first Brown’s office denied there’d been an attempt to control the way McCall did her job. Later Brown walked that denial back, saying that yes, there was an attempt by her staff to make certain that McCall represented the governor’s interests and to be quiet about the fact that she was doing so.
Adding to the governor’s problems, Isaak’s appointment to the appeals court drew criticism because of the unorthodox way in which it was handled, without the usual announcement of the vacancy and request for other applicants. Tuesday Isaak decided not to accept the nomination.
The governor shouldn’t have been surprised by the criticism of the way she handled the McCall resignation, in particular. She made a point of her belief in the need for government openness when she took office, and she restated that commitment this week. She failed to recognize, she told Oregon Public Broadcasting, that having her office oversee the advocate and the advocacy council made true independence for them impossible.
She’s right about that, and no doubt she’ll work to improve the situation. The advocate and accompanying advisory council are currently housed in the Secretary of State’s State Archives Division, and there’s no need to change that.
However one change the council discussed this month — moving its funding to the Treasury Department and have money come from somewhere other than the state General Fund — is less appealing. True, allocating a budget from the General Fund does create the possibility of politics playing a part in budgeting, but the Legislature’s most important task, arguably, is overseeing how Oregon government agencies spend the taxpayer money that makes up the General Fund. Even the public records advocate and advisory council must be subject to that oversight.