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Ian K. Kullgren
By Ian K. Kullgren January 14, 2011

Kitzhaber asks for some resignations

With a looming $3.5 billion budget shortfall, last year's gubernatorial campaign was dedicated, in large part, to ideas about how to fundamentally change the way the state is run. What better way to prove you're going to do that than to promise voters that you would ask for the resignations of the state's agency heads and reappoint only those who were committed to drastic budgeting changes?

That's exactly what now-Gov. John Kitzhaber did at a September campaign stop in Burns, Oregon. According to the Burns Times-Herald, while delivering remarks to the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance, Kitzhaber told the audience that "his plans for a more efficient government include him asking for the resignations of all state agency directors and managers, and he would appoint or reappoint those dedicated to increasing productivity and reducing costs. ‘It's time to look at the budget differently, to spend it differently to get the desired outcomes." Kitzhaber said.”

(Typically, we like to get original sources -- in this case a copy of his prepared remarks or audio of the event. Amy Wojcicki, a spokeswoman for the governor, said she could find neither. She did not, however, dispute the Burns paper's account of the event.)

Unlike many of the promises we're tracking, this one doesn't require much lead up. So, the day of Kitzhaber's inauguration, we asked around to a few agency heads to see whether the governor had indeed asked for the resignations.

Patrick Cooney, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation, said Kitzhaber had already received a letter of  resignation from Matthew Garrett, the department's director. Cooney provided us both the e-mail requesting the letter of resignation and the letter of resignation itself.

It seemed, initially, that Kitzhaber had already made good on his first promise. But as we read the e-mail sent out on his behalf to the state managers, the issue became a bit murky.

In the e-mail, dated Dec. 5, 2010 and written by Kitzhaber adviser Tom Imeson, it's clear that Kitzhaber is not, in fact, asking for the resignation of all agency heads, as he said he would do in September. Imeson quotes a note from the governor-elect:

"I have not made decisions about which resignations will be accepted. Those decisions will be made by February 10, during which time I will have the opportunity to meet with you and others to discuss priorities. My intention is to use this process in a positive way, to insure that individual agency directors and I share a common agenda, and that you get the opportunity to affirmatively sign up for continued state service.

You will note that the list does not include all state agencies or programs.  Rather, it represents my immediate priorities for achieving a new compact for agency leaders.  Over time, my goal is to have in place agreements with all state agency heads, whether they report directly to the Governor or to boards and commissions.  These agreements will focus on the outcomes we will work to achieve on behalf of Oregonians, and the tools agency heads will have to achieve those outcomes."

There are a few considerations here. To start, there are more than 100 "agencies or programs” according to the state's website. And they run the gamut, from juggernauts, like the Oregon Health Authority, to the easily overlooked, like Oregon Film and Video. Some of these agencies, Kitzhaber has little control over. He can't ask Attorney General John Kroger to resign from the Justice Department or Ted Wheeler from Treasury, for instance, because they were elected.

In all, Kitzhaber asked for the resignation of the heads of the following 24 agencies: Administrative Services, Agriculture, Business Oregon, Corrections, Consumer & Business Services, Energy, Environmental Quality, Fish & Wildlife, Forestry, Health Authority, Housing/Community Services, Human Services, Land Conservation & Development, OLCC, Lottery, Oregon University System, Parks & Recreation, PERS, Oregon State Police, Revenue, Transportation, Water Resources, OWEB, Oregon Youth Authority.

That list covers most of the heaviest hitters, but there some obvious omissions. Among them: Community Colleges and Workforce Development, Employment, Ethics Commission, Military and Travel Oregon.

When we asked Wojcicki, the Kitzhaber spokeswoman, if there was a reason the terms of the promise had changed, she sent an e-mail statement. "Governor Kitzhaber will continue to meet with all agency heads, including those whose resignations were not requested in December, to
insure that the State is led by a team that shares his commitment to transforming Oregon government with increased efficiency, productivity, transparency and accountability of state agencies and programs through outcomes-based management.”

Assuming he does so, that still falls short of his original promise to ask "all” agency heads for their resignations. That said, it's not as though he hasn't followed through at least partially. Twenty-four letters of resignation is still significant. With that in mind, we'll call this a Compromise.

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