One of Oregon’s top finance officials has announced he’s stepping down, as lawmakers prepare to go into high gear crafting a new two-year state budget.
Oregon Chief Financial Officer George Naughton, who has worked under four governors, is planning to leave his position in the coming days, according to an email sent to state employees on Thursday. Gov. Tina Kotek has tapped Kate Nass, Naughton’s deputy of more than five years, to fill in.
“Because George and Kate have worked so closely for the last several years, we expect this to be a smooth transition,” Berri Leslie, director of the state’s Department of Administrative Services and Naughton’s boss, wrote in the email.
Naughton is the latest high-powered official to announce a departure under Kotek, who took office in early January.
An administrative services spokesperson said that Naughton had not submitted a resignation letter, and that his final day has not been solidified. Spokesperson Andrea Chiapella did not immediately answer a question about whether Kotek or Leslie had requested Naughton’s resignation. Kotek’s office declined to comment on a personnel matter.
Naughton’s imminent departure comes at an interesting time. As the state’s CFO, he served as a chief budget advisor for Govs. Ted Kulongoski, John Kitzhaber and Kate Brown. He not only had a major say in the budget requests made by a wide swath of state agencies, but also served as a point man to help governors analyze and respond to budgets passed by the Legislature.
Naughton is on the way out just as lawmakers are about to enter the thick of budget-writing season. They are required to pass their next two-year budget – expected to account for some $31.5 billion in tax revenues – before this year’s legislative session adjourns, no later than June 25. Top budget writers are expected to unveil a first draft of that budget in coming weeks.
News of Naughton’s resignation was unexpected to at least one lawmaker deeply involved in that process. State Rep. Greg Smith, R-Heppner, co-chairs a budget subcommittee tasked with passing the Department of Administrative Services budget, in which Naughton played a major role.
Smith was surprised on Thursday morning to learn that Naughton would be leaving. Then Smith thought back on recent budget hearings involving Naughton’s agency – hearings in which the CFO would typically have a leading role.
“What’s interesting is, … he didn’t come up and share any thoughts,” Smith said. “He was like three or four rows back.”
Nass, who is taking over for Naughton, has served as Oregon’s deputy chief finance officer for five-and-a-half years. She also formerly served as deputy director of finance for the Oregon Health Authority, and recently held the role of president of the National Association of State Budget Officers.
Kotek’s tenure in the governor’s mansion has seen some notable changes atop Oregon agencies.
The former head of the Oregon Health Authority, Patrick Allen, and his behavioral health director both left before Kotek took office. Kotek had signaled she would ask for their resignations if they remained.
Then, last week, James Schroeder, the interim state health director, abruptly announced he’d leave the agency on March 17. Kotek did not request the resignation, her office said.
Kotek also requested the resignation of Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission Director Steve Marks, whose agency became embroiled in scandal shortly after.
Other agency leads who have left include Oregon Lottery Director Barry Pack and Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps. Colt Gill, director of the state Department of Education, is expected to retire by July.
Kotek campaigned for office last year on a platform of bringing accountability to state government, a process she said would involve changes to leadership in some agencies.