Shortly after Oregon Gov. Kate Brown took office, she slammed former Gov. John Kitzhaber for a lack of transparency in his office.
Brown promised to change that.
But less than two weeks out from Election Night and locked in a tight battle with her GOP rival Rep. Knute Buehler, the Democratic governor took two hits on transparency in a single day.
First, the governor caved to public pressure and agreed to a partial release of school report cards that her appointed education director had planned to delay until after the election. Later in the day, the Marion County Court ordered her office release documents showing what bills the state Legislature could consider in the upcoming 2019 legislative session.
Brown’s administration also tried to block those records until Nov. 30, well after the election.
School Report Cards
Oregon's deputy superintendent of public instruction, Colt Gill, announced Wednesday that the state's annual report summarizing school performance, historically called the "state report card," will be partially released — a reversal from Tuesday when The Oregonian/Oregonlive reported that the report would be delayed, possibly for political reasons.
Gill flatly denied any political motivation behind the delay. He blamed the complexity of rolling out an overhauled report, under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, and said he never discussed the delay directly with Brown.
Instead, Gill said he explained to Brown’s chief education officer, Lindsey Capps, that it would take more time than the mid-October deadline to organize support material for school districts and contextual documents.
“I think at the time it was understood that what we were trying to do was provide supports, so the response that I got was, ‘We understand, move forward,’” Gill said.
Gill said his preference was to wait until November to publish all the documents related to the new “At-A-Glance reports.” Capps told OPB that he agreed with Gill's preference, saying he deemed the change "routine in nature." But the Oregonian story changed Brown’s mind.
“I think the governor has now clearly seen from the community that people would like to see these reports now. She’s directed me to do that, I agree with that … I’m just sorry we don’t have the rest of the information ready for our school districts,” Gill said.
The Oregon Department of Education released individual report cards on hundreds of Oregon schools, but not the statewide summary information that usually accompanies those. ODE had planned to share guidance on how to interpret the new data and other supporting information for district officials, but Gill said that is still being delayed.
“Gov. Brown directed Colt Gill to release this information today because she expects transparency from state government and she will continue to build on that commitment and the progress that has been made to date,” said Chris Pair, Brown’s communication director, in a statement.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Knute Buehler jumped on the news. Buehler has made education one of his signature campaign issues in his run against Brown.
“The single biggest failure of Gov. Brown is her indifference to fixing Oregon schools,” Buehler often says on the campaign trail.
On Wednesday morning, the Bend Republican announced he would be holding a press conference in the afternoon to discuss the delay. At the same time of his scheduled press conference, Gill — who works for Brown — announced he would be releasing a version of the school-rating reports.
But Buehler, presumably unaware the Brown administration had decided to release the report at the exact time of his scheduled press conference, continued to talk about the reports as if they hadn't been published.
“What is so dangerous and concerning it’s worth hiding this information from parents and kids?” he said at the conference. “At the end of the day, this is about leadership and trust.”
Upcoming Legislative Session
Later in the day, the Marion County Circuit Court ordered the state to release legislative concepts to a Portland business lawyer by 5 p.m. Friday after the state tried to block them from being unveiled.
Since 2010, Greg Chaimov has requested the legislative concepts from the state with the goal of giving his clients an understanding of what bills could surface in the upcoming legislative session. But this year, the state told Chaimov those concepts were protected under attorney-client privilege and wouldn’t be released until the end of November.
The bills are often wish lists from state agencies, under the purview of Brown, and are often the first to be heard in the Legislature.
“This is what her administration wants to do, so why not let us know? Why she wants to do stuff that she doesn’t want people to know about is perplexing,” said John DiLorenzo, a colleague of Chaimov who is representing him in the lawsuit. “Well, it’s not perplexing. Obviously, she wants to do stuff that she doesn’t want people to know about. Maybe that’s the reason. But that’s an awful reason.”
DiLorenzo said when his office receives the 234 legislative concepts, they will post them for the public to access.
The state is facing a looming budget deficit and the Legislature is expected to consider ways to raise money and tackle such issues as property tax reform and how to curb carbon emissions.
Brown’s office previously told OPB that politics had nothing to do with the denial of records to Chaimov.
The state said it plans to appeal the ruling.