The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s former director was forced to resign after agency leaders learned he had a relationship with a direct report.
DEQ’s former director Richard Whitman announced last summer he would retire from the agency at the end of 2022. But in September, Whitman abruptly resigned three months ahead of schedule citing “personal reasons” and that he was leaving the agency in a position of strength.
The Oregonian/OregonLive first reported Whitman’s relationship with an employee he directly supervised led to his resignation. After learning of the relationship, department leaders consulted with attorneys from the Oregon Department of Justice out of concern Whitman may have violated state ethics laws. DEQ then forced Whitman to resign.
DEQ’s spokesperson Harry Esteve said when agency leaders learned about Whitman’s relationship, then-Deputy Director Leah Feldon alerted the chair of the Environmental Quality Commission Kathleen George, which is responsible for hiring and firing the director.
“After discussions between Mr. Whitman and EQC Chair George, Mr. Whitman submitted his resignation,” Esteve said in an emailed statement to OPB. “This happened over the span of about two weeks as Chair George and Deputy Feldon worked with the governor’s office and Oregon Department of Justice to ensure DEQ was taking appropriate action.”
Feldon has since gone on to become DEQ’s new director.
Esteve said DEQ leadership told Whitman he may have violated state ethics standards that require self-reporting. But according to The Oregonian/Oregon Live, DEQ has no rules prohibiting consensual relationships between supervisors and their direct reports.
“The circumstances of Mr. Whitman’s leaving DEQ are a troubling departure from the way DEQ works,” Esteve said. “It does not reflect the high standards we set for ourselves in our mission to protect and enhance Oregon’s environment and public health.”
DEQ did not disclose when the relationship occurred, for how long or who it was with.
OPB has reached out to Whitman for comment.
Esteve said all DEQ employees are required to take regular training on how to maintain a professional workplace and what constitutes a hostile work environment. Esteve did not state whether DEQ will be changing the agency’s rules prohibiting consensual relationships between managers and their direct reports.