Ginger McCall (Courtesy/Oregon Secretary of State)
SALEM — Oregon’s first-ever public records advocate is resigning from her post on Oct. 11.
Ginger McCall, appointed by Gov. Kate Brown in early 2018 to boost transparency and openness in state and local government, said she was stepping down after what she called “meaningful pressure” from the governor’s office to represent its interests in her role on the state’s public records advisory council.
Willamette Week first reported McCall’s resignation.
McCall sent two resignation letters: one to the advisory council, and a second to Gov. Kate Brown.
In her letter to Brown, McCall wrote that she believed she and the governor’s office had “conflicting visions” of the public records advocate’s role. She felt the role should have “a high degree of independence and serve the public interest,” she wrote in her letter, but said the governor’s office didn’t agree. She wrote that she was pressured to represent the interests of the governor’s office, “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,” McCall wrote. “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 said she “made multiple attempts to find a workable solution, but at this point I no longer believe these conflicting visions of my role can be reconciled.”
In a resignation letter to the state Public Records Advisory Council, of which she was a member, McCall was less explicit, but alluded to her concern that the role be independent.
“This office serves an essential role in connecting the public with the government,” McCall wrote. “In order to do this, though, the office must be independent, operating to serve the public and not partisan political interests. I hope that the council will dedicate itself to protecting that independence and select a candidate who is equally devoted to that goal.”
In a statement the afternoon of Monday, Sept. 9, McCall said that it had been a “pleasure serving the people of Oregon” and expressed pride for the work of the council. She said she is going to take a job with the federal government in Washington, D.C.
The governor’s office denied McCall’s claims. “The allegations made by Ms. McCall are untrue,” Chris Pair, a spokesman for Brown, wrote in a statement to the Oregon Capital Bureau.
When the governor proposed the role of advocate and the advisory council on public records two years ago, she did so hoping they would “act independently” to help resolve public records disputes and train public bodies on public records law, Pair said.
“When creating the Office of the Public Records Advocate, the Legislature decided to put the position under the governor’s authority and did not have the inclination to make it independent of the executive branch,” Pair said. “In the future, as it always has been, the governor looks forward to the continued engagement and recommendations of the council regarding both the next public records advocate and the next reforms the Legislature should address.”
McCall was hired by Brown to boost openness in state and local government. Brown initially entered the governorship in 2015, when Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned in the midst of an influence-peddling scandal, and Brown promised to champion transparency.
Several months after taking office, Washington, D.C.’s Center for Public Integrity gave Oregon an “F” grade on government accountability and transparency. In November, the state advisory council released its first report detailing its work on government transparency. It also identified numerous issues with how Oregon’s public bodies handle requests for public information.
After news of McCall’s resignation broke, she garnered swift support on social media.
“The Public Records Advocate is an important and necessary role in our government, and transparency is critical in any ethical administration,” said State Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Clackamas, in a statement. “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.”
Disclosure: Les Zaitz, publisher of the Malheur Enterprise, serves on the state Public Records Advisory Council that McCall chairs.
Reporter Claire Withycombe: email@example.com or 971-304-4148.