Oregon Public Records Advocate Ginger McCall abruptly announced her resignation Monday. McCall cited irreconcilable differences with Gov. Kate Brown’s staff as her reason for stepping down.
In her resignation letter, McCall explained that the governor’s general counsel, Misha Isaak, asked her to represent the governor’s interests to the Public Records Advisory Council. McCall said that Isaak wanted her to represent the governor’s priorities but not to acknowledge that she was doing that, and McCall went on to say that Isaak’s actions amounted to an abuse of authority on his part.
“From a good government standpoint, it should be deeply troubling to people,” McCall told “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller Tuesday. “And I hope that it is deeply troubling. It was deeply troubling to me that an office that was billed to the public very clearly as being an independent office was then suffering from secret political pressure.”
Asked if she would have taken the job if she had not been assured of the independence of the office, McCall said she “likely wouldn’t have.”
“It’s not particularly in my skill set to serve partisan political interests,” she continued. “My entire career has been devoted to good government and government oversight.”
According to McCall, it was after the Public Records Advisory Council issued a report critical of Oregon’s public records policies that Isaak made it clear that she was not, in fact, independent.
“I was told for the first time that the governor’s general counsel believed that he was my supervisor,” McCall said of the January meeting with Isaak. “At the end of the meeting there was a very uncomfortable and awkward statement by the general counsel, Misha Isaak, saying that what he was really concerned about is that I would leave that meeting, pick up the phone and call — he named a particular reporter — and tell that reporter that the governor’s office is trying to censor me.”
McCall said that she felt she had little choice in how to respond.
“I was at the time, nine months pregnant, I will note, and I had moved across the country for this job and I didn’t have any other job in hand and I had bills to pay. So I was put in an impossible position,” she explained.
The governor put out a statement late in the day on Monday, responding to McCall’s letter announcing her resignation.
“The allegations made today by Ginger are a surprise to both me and my Chief of Staff,” the statement reads. “I find the fact that this situation has reached the point where she feels the need to resign deeply regrettable. Had Ginger reached out to me sooner, I would have put my efforts into addressing her concerns and avoiding her resignation. The continued reform of public records law in Oregon hinges on the success of the Public Records Advocate and the Public Records Council that my office created.”
McCall said she could not speak to what the governor knew or didn’t know of what her general counsel had communicated about the expectations of the public records advocate position.
“I know that I had a meeting with her in May where she made it clear that she wanted me to be ‘on the team,’” McCall said. “I did bring up the issues around the independence several times with both the governor’s staff and general counsel. So … I can’t really speak to what she knew or she didn’t know.”
McCall pointed out that Isaak was also in the May meeting, which made it difficult for her to speak directly to the governor about her concerns.
Brown announced on Aug. 30 that she was appointing Isaak to a seat on the Oregon Court of Appeals. McCall said she found that appointment “deeply troubling.”
McCall is leaving Oregon for Washington, D.C., to take a job with the federal government. But she said she felt compelled to speak out before leaving her position.
“I moved here for this job because I believed in it and because I still believe in it. And because I believe, again, for the effectiveness of this office, the office has to be independent,” McCall said Tuesday.
“And also just on the broader good government issues, secret influence over a supposedly independent office is deeply problematic and ought to make the public upset because I am here to serve the public. And because I thought in the end that the best way to serve the public would be by writing that letter.”