Critic Suggest Legislators Take Action to Avoid Conflicts of Interest

That conflict led to the resignations of Kristen Leonard and Abby Tibbs.

Legislators can avoid future conflicts of interest that led to the recent resignations of Kristin Leonard and Abby Tibbs, according to a vocal critic.

Les Ruark is encouraging Sen. Richard Devlin and Rep. Nancy Nathanson -- two prominent Democrats who co-chair the Ways and Means Committee -- to pursue a budget note that controls how state agencies can use loaned executives.

“We need a stronger framework that can lessen the difficulties loaned executives may encounter but also strengthen the receipt, integrity, and transparency of public service performed by loaned executives,” said Ruark, a wheat and alfalfa farmer who spent years as a Senate aide in the State Capitol. “We need something more than the informal set of criteria that’s probably sitting around gathering dust somewhere in the Executive Office Building.” 

Leonard had been hired as Governor Brown’s chief of staff, while Tibbs was her deputy. But their past caught up with them, following an investigative article appearing in Willamette Week in mid-December.

Nigel Jaquiss reported that Leonard and her husband, Kevin Neely, owned a bookkeeping company that had been paid $81,188 by Brown’s campaign and that Neely was also a lobbyist for the Oregon District Attorneys Association that is pursuing legislation that could be signed by the governor. Earlier Leonard had been public affairs director for the Port of Portland and had taken a leave while working on a temporary assignment for the Governor.

Tibbs, meanwhile, had been a top-level lobbyist for Oregon Health & Science University before joining Brown’s staff as deputy. While still employed at OHSU, she had taken a two-month leave to help the governor draft her budget. OHSU derives a small percentage of its budget from the state’s general fund.

According to state law, public officials are required to disclose conflicts of interest and neither Leonard nor Tibbs had, according to the Willamette Week.

Shortly after its article appeared, both women had handed in their resignation.

Based on what occurred, Ruark says there’s a definite need to tighten up ethics’ requirements.

“Should top positions at OHSU and the Port of Portland (and now even some at PSU) be utilized as the political (and financially rewarding) ‘connections’ they’ve become in recent years?” he asked. “Perhaps, on occasion and for limited durations, as they were initially utilized—but, certainly not routinely; and, certainly only once they’ve been much more appropriately configured than is apparently the case today”

This isn’t the first time Ruark has challenged state government. Earlier, he questioned the bonuses paid to top executives at OHSU, and asked Governor Brown to ask OHSU’s board of directors to reconsider its approval of these bonus payments. The governor is responsible for appointing those board members. He also called into question the legislative intent behind the separation of OHSU from the state’s university system.

Diane can be reached at [email protected].

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