Placing Public Records Advocate under the Gov’s Office Was ‘Flawed,’ Brown Says

The structure of the newly created public records advocate, established under the umbrella of the governor’s office, was “flawed from the beginning,” as Gov. Kate Brown now admits, in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Given their policy roles, the advocate and the Public Records Advisory Council could not be truly independent as long as they were overseen by the governor’s office, or any other elected official for that matter,” Gov. Brown said. “Under this structure, any meaningful supervision had the potential to be seen as politically-motivated meddling, even if it was not intended that way.”

The office of the public records advocate, which was proposed by Gov. Brown in 2017, but it has been surrounded by controversy since the first person to hold the position, Ginger McCall, abruptly announced her resignation last week.

Among her reasons for stepping down were allegations by McCall that the governor’s top attorney, Misha Isaak, and other staff attempted to pressure her to secretly represent the governor’s interests on the Public Records Council.

In her statement, Gov. Brown said she accepts ultimate responsibility for the misunderstanding and “controversies have been created.” She also said she has met personally with McCall to “hear her thoughts on how to reinforce the strength of the public records advocate position and better serve the transparency process.”

“This is a new position, and the Legislature and my office have clearly struggled with how to implement it within the current system of state government,” she said. “In view of this experience, I think it is safe to say we can do much better, and the people of Oregon deserve to know that we take their trust seriously.”

Isaak, who had been appointed by the governor to an open judgeship on the Oregon Court of Appeals, will decline the post, though it appears he will remain in his current position as Brown’s general counsel.

“I have worked hard to earn a professional reputation beyond ethical reproach,” Isaak wrote in his Sept. 17 letter declining the appointment. “I am not willing to accept further damage to my reputation that could arise from joining the bench under a cloud of controversy.”

Finally, Brown said she is working on a new policy to make the process of appointing new judges more open and transparent.

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