When he resigned last month, lobbing explosive allegations on the way out the door, the official charged with handling harassment complaints at the Oregon Legislature had reason to believe he wouldn’t be in the position much longer.
Lawmakers and human resources officials had recently learned a number of concerning things they missed when hiring Nate Monson, records released by the state Legislature on Thursday show.
That included the fact that Monson had misrepresented his work history and offered misleading references. He’d also left a former job in Iowa amid concerns about harassment and financial mismanagement that only made their way to Oregon officials nearly two months after Monson began work here as acting legislative equity officer.
“I am deeply troubled about the information that was shared with me today,” Jessica Knieling, the Legislature’s interim human resources director, wrote in a June 8 memo released to OPB and officials throughout the Capitol. “Frankly, when I got the first email today I had hoped it was a simple misunderstanding.”
Nothing in the memo contradicts allegations Monson made when he resigned on June 15. In his own memo to lawmakers, Monson detailed a history of unpaid legal bills, delayed investigations, unethical contracting, sloppy record keeping and lax responsiveness at the Legislative Equity Office he’d taken over. The office, created in 2019, is a clearinghouse of sorts for complaints about harassment, retaliation and other workplace misconduct.
“We want you to know that we take his allegations relating to the state of the office very seriously,” the four lawmakers who chair the Joint Conduct Committee, Monson’s direct supervisors, wrote in an email sent Capitol-wide on Thursday. “We are taking the time now to gather all the relevant facts to ascertain the veracity of the allegations ...”
But the newly released records offer more context for Monson’s sudden departure, suggesting he knew he had little future in the Capitol as scrutiny mounted.
Monson declined to comment on the memo on Friday, citing the advice of legal counsel.
It’s not clear what due diligence legislative administrators performed when hiring Monson. Records released this week show they emailed at least one of his references. But a simple Google search would have caught a discrepancy far earlier in the hiring process.
Officials began learning a lot more about their new hire in June, after a news item cited his resume’s claim he had worked for six months at the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change.
That wasn’t true, as a call and email to legislative administration officials from the coalition’s executive director, Luana Nelson-Brown, made clear. According to the memo, Nelson-Brown explained that she had been “friendly colleagues” with Monson, and that “they talked about him coming to work for the coalition, but never anything close to what he listed on his resume.”
Nelson-Brown further explained that her board of directors would not allow her to hire Monson because of “the issues” he’d had while working at Iowa Safe Schools, an affiliate organization that Monson had helmed for 13 years before being fired in 2020. According to the memo, Nelson-Brown suggested that Monson’s “supervision and racism” had become a concern in that role, and that a financial audit by the Iowa Office of the Attorney General was underway.
“Nate could be good for some roles at the Legislature but Equity is not one of them,” the memo said, summarizing what Knieling reported hearing from Nelson-Brown.
Looking into the matter further, Knieling learned that Monson’s references weren’t all what they appeared. He’d listed one reference as an Iowa Safe Schools board member, without pointing out that that person was a high school student who acted as a student representative, but had no supervisory authority.
Another reference, listed by Monson as a board member at the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, had never been on the board of that organization, a fact that Knieling said she discovered with a Google search months after Monson was hired. In fact the person had served on the board of Iowa for Safe Schools, she wrote.
As part of her investigation in June, Knieling also spoke with current leadership at Iowa Safe Schools, who indicated the organization had cut ties with Monson in November 2020, but declined to provide many details. Knieling did learn, she said, that Iowa Safe Schools had “discovered financial improprieties,” but offered no details.
“The [ISS] Board President said she would have serious concerns about him in such a role,” Knieling wrote in the June 8 memo, referencing Monson’s job as legislative equity officer. “I asked if he had engaged in unlawful harassment or discrimination. She said she would not say unlawful, but it had been very inappropriate.”
In interviews while he was being considered for the role in the Capitol, Knieling wrote, Monson told officials he’d “intentionally left” his job at Iowa Safe Schools.
Knieling’s memo was written one week before Monson tendered his resignation. Monson’s direct supervisors, the Joint Conduct Committee chairs, suggested in their email Thursday that he was aware concerns had arisen that would prevent him from transitioning from an “acting” role to a permanent one.
“Given the level of trust and integrity that the LEO position requires, we as Co-Chairs decided that we would schedule a meeting of the Joint Conduct Committee in order to consider Mr. Monson’s employment in light of this new information,” wrote the lawmakers, Sens. Floyd Prozanski and Chuck Thomsen, and Reps. Julie Fahey and Ron Noble. “Mr. Monson was advised of the plan to schedule a meeting and elected to tender his resignation.”
The substantive concerns Monson alerted lawmakers to on his way out the door remain — and have generated a lot of interest in a Legislature still wrestling with how to handle harassment.
“When I started, there were no case files, electronic documents, trainings scheduled, and bills that were unpaid resulting in investigations lasting on average 10 months over this past year,” Monson wrote in his June 15 resignation letter. “There were outstanding cases where individuals tried to file but heard nothing back. The severity of the situation means that justice is not being given to those who have come forward and may cost taxpayers millions in lawsuits from the liability of not having proper procedures, documentation, and oversight.”
In their email to Capitol officials and staff, the Joint Conduct Committee chairs said they had “taken steps” to address one of Monson’s concerns: that financial constraints had led investigators to stop work, delaying harassment investigations. They also suggest that unpaid bills had not led to work stoppages, as Monson alleged.
The two outside investigators who perform contract work for the Legislature did not answer OPB’s questions about Monson’s claims.
The email sent Thursday suggests that the Joint Conduct Committee chairs were broadly releasing the memo about Monson in light of media requests. The documents released to OPB are more extensive than what was requested.
Despite the rocky end of his tenure, at least one of Monson’s former supervisors has positive things to say.
“I thought Nate Monson was the perfect fit for the position,” Rep. Ron Noble, R-McMinnville, told OPB last week. “There were some things that, obviously, he felt he needed to move on.”
In a job that demands confidentiality — and whose activities are often shielded from lawmakers because of it — Noble said he believes Monson was able to act as an auditor of sorts for how the office was handled prior to his tenure.
“I don’t think the system is broken,” Noble said. “I think Nate coming in exposed some of the weaknesses in the logistics of the position and supervising of the position.”
Lawmakers are in the process of looking for Monson’s replacement.