by Dan Lucas
Not much has changed in Oregon in the last several decades when it comes to abuses of power. Decades ago Gov. Neil Goldschmidt got away with alleged serial sexual abuse with at least one young girl. He was never charged or arrested. His enablers and associates went on to prosper greatly, ending up in senior positions at places like the Port of Portland, TriMet, NW Natural Gas, PGE, as well as a variety of elected positions.
I only know of one person who did the right thing, and they didn’t end up in any senior or elected positions. They violated the unspoken rule in the Oregon political scene: play the game, keep your mouth shut, look the other way and you too can prosper.
Decades later – a different Oregon governor, but a similar story. Many, many people willing to play the game and look the other way, and only one who is willing to do the right thing. The one who did the right thing is being punished, and already the enablers are prospering.
The senior state IT manager who refused to delete Kitzhaber’s emails has now revealed publicly that he was also the one who gave the emails to Willamette Week. He has been the subject of what appears to be ongoing, politically-motivated retribution, including the threat of criminal charges.
The senior manager is Michael Rodgers, who Willamette Week identified as “a Democrat who twice voted for Kitzhaber.”
Back on February 6th, Rodgers received a request from Gov. John Kitzhaber’s office to delete emails. At the time, there were already reports of an FBI investigation into Kitzhaber and Oregon first lady Cylvia Hayes, and just the day before Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum had finally indicated her office might begin an investigation into Kitzhaber and Hayes. This was also against the backdrop of Kitzhaber’s administration successfully stonewalling media public records requests for months on end.
Rodgers then went to his boss, Michael Jordan, who The Oregonian reported was “one of Kitzhaber’s closest allies in state government.” Willamette Week reports that Rodgers “told Jordan that deleting the emails might be illegal. Under Oregon law, it is a crime to knowingly destroy, conceal, remove or falsely alter a public record.” Rodgers was disappointed and alarmed by Jordan’s reaction in the meeting.
According to Willamette Week, after the meeting, Jordan told Rodgers “Kitzhaber’s top staff wanted to review the emails” and directed Rodgers to “copy the emails to thumb drives and bring them to [him].” At that point, Rodgers believed that meant “the governor’s office would decide which emails would be deleted.”
Rodgers told Willamette Week “I knew that Michael Jordan could either make me [destroy those records] or go around me and have it done.” So he made a copy of the Kitzhaber emails for himself on another thumb drive.
Rodgers tried to talk to the Oregon Department of Justice, but was told that the job of the DOJ is to defend the state. He next went to a state HR official, who suggested he talk to the media. He had been told by a state police computer expert “This is a political investigation, not a criminal one.” Rodgers also considered going to the Oregon Government Ethics Commission or even the Oregon Supreme Court, but told Willamette Week “in all of those places I find people that were directly appointed by the governor.”
It took many lapses of duty to put Michael Rodgers in that awful position. Including Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sitting on her hands for months and not following the law that requires the attorney general to investigate allegations of corruption or malfeasance. Including then Secretary of State Kate Brown’s partisan mishandling of Kitzhaber’s self-described “Princess of Darkness,” Patricia McCaig, working off the books on Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign.
And so Michael Rodgers made the call he made. And now he’s paying the price. According to Nigel Jaquiss at Willamette Week, Rodgers has put on 30 pounds, can’t sleep, is dealing with mounting legal bills and has been isolated as he awaits his fate.
Willamette Week reports a Marion County deputy district attorney offered Rodgers a choice through his lawyer: resign from his state job or he could be charged with multiple counts of “official misconduct.” I really don’t get the legal logic of that. What’s the legal correlation between dropping the charges and having him resign?
And what about the people who played the game? Michael Jordan has landed a job with the City of Portland earning $185,000 a year. Kate Brown moved up to governor and Ellen Rosenblum is still Oregon’s attorney general.
In explaining to Willamette Week why he did what he did, Rodgers said “I did what my parents would have wanted me to do.”
I wish more elected officials and people in the prior and current governor’s office, at the Oregon State Police, in the Oregon Department of Justice and with the Marion County District Attorney’s office had parents like Rodgers’.
UPDATE: This column originally ran online in the Salem Statesman Journal on 6/2/2015 at 12:13pm, and on 6/3/2015 in the print edition of the Statesman Journal. At 5:50pm on 6/3/2015, the Associated Press announced: Kitzhaber email leaker [whistleblower] won’t face charges and Nigel Jaquiss at Willamette Week ran a more in-depth story at 6:33pm on 6/3/2015.
To read more from Dan, visit www.dan-lucas.com