Kitzhaber places gag order on state employees

whitsett.serendipityThumb Kitzhaber places gag order on state employeesSen. Doug Whitsett (R-Klamath Falls)

However, his (Kitzhaber’s) apparent requirement that all state employees’ speech must be edited through his office cast a chilling perspective on his pledge to preside over an open and transparent government.

On February 7, 2011 Governor Kitzhaber’s Chief of Staff Curtis Robinhold sent a disturbing memo to all state agency directors providing direction to the state agencies on expressing positions on pending state legislation.

The most troubling part of the memo states: “There should be no surprises to the Governor’s Office on the input agencies provide in formal committee testimony or otherwise regarding pending legislation. As such, even if expressing a “neutral” position and providing factual information, agencies must provide a heads up to the governor’s Legislative Director and assigned Policy Advisor in advance. Agencies must obtain authorization from the Governor’s Legislative Director or their assigned Policy Advisor before supporting or opposing bills, whether at their own initiation or when asked for input from stakeholders or legislators”.

This memo appears to require state employees to obtain permission from Governor Kitzhaber’s office before expressing any position or responding to any question from a Legislator regarding any pending legislation whether asked in committee or anywhere else.

The memo goes on to describe the conditions under which the public employees may be allowed to give factual testimony in committee or to answer direct questions asked by legislators. Those conditions include whether the response is consistent with the Governor’s current budget recommendations and legislative agenda and whether the response will create excessive controversy that could distract from the Governor’s higher level agenda and message.

It is understandable that the governor wishes to present a consistent message to both the Legislature and the people of Oregon. However, his apparent requirement that all state employees’ speech must be edited through his office cast a chilling perspective on his pledge to preside over an open and transparent government.

Moreover, it is the responsibility of Legislators to oversee state agency actions and outcomes as well as to determine the cost effectiveness of how the taxpayers’ money is being spent. Kitzhaber’s directive appears to limit that oversight to only what the Governor wants the legislators to hear. It also will place state employees in the untenable position of being told not to respond to direct questions from Legislators without those answers being edited by his staff.

My office has submitted requests to Legislative Counsel for legal opinions regarding Governor Kitzhaber’s authority to suppress the speech of Oregon public employees.

 

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Posted by at 11:37 | Posted in Gov. Kitzhaber | 45 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • valley person

    Makes perfect sense to me. They work under his administration. Free speech rights do not include taking public positions on legislation in opposition to your boss.

    • Steve Plunk

      The problem being pointed out by Sen. Whitsett is how this applies to testimony in committee. Legislators should be able to ask direct questions of anyone appearing before a committee without their responses being vetted by the governor’s office. This policy will replace candor while testifying with fear and suspicion. Even outside of committee a legislator should be able to ask questions of department heads of obtain insight into how legislation might play out within a department.

      This micromanaging by the Governor is a serious misstep and likely to damage the relationship between the legislative and executive branches. For that matter it could damage how the public views the executive branch as it seems now to be operating behind a veil of secrecy and silence.

      I wonder how the state newspapers feel about such a gag order?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-K-Smith/1833373978 Tim K Smith

      You have got to be joking with me. This is not a dictatorship it is a republic in which appointed public positions are sworn to work for the people of this state and uphold the constitution which ,by the way, does not allow at a federal or state level censorship of free speech no matter who you are working for. This is why they wrote the whistleblowers laws. PUT DOWN THE COOLAID GLASS AND STEP BACK!!

    • conservatively speaking
    • conservatively speaking
  • Ozymandius

    I see nothing wrong here. This only applies to information given out by state workers as they speak on the official position of the state agency. Hypothetical: Bob is the head of the Department of Human Services. A bill would affect DHS policy. Bob personally opposes the bill, but the Governor supports it. The Governor has every right to tell Bob that, in his capacity as head of DHS, Bob must publicly support the bill. So any document that goes out on DHS letterhead with Bob’s signature should be supportive of the bill. Bob might be free to run around outside the work environment saying “I, Bob, a citizen and taxpayer, personally oppose this bill” all he wants. However, if in so doing, he draws attention to himself in a manner that could be interpreted as representing DHS, the Governor would be well within his rights to fire Bob.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

  • Ozymandius

    I see nothing wrong here. This only applies to information given out by state workers as they speak on the official position of the state agency. Hypothetical: Bob is the head of the Department of Human Services. A bill would affect DHS policy. Bob personally opposes the bill, but the Governor supports it. The Governor has every right to tell Bob that, in his capacity as head of DHS, Bob must publicly support the bill. So any document that goes out on DHS letterhead with Bob’s signature should be supportive of the bill. Bob might be free to run around outside the work environment saying “I, Bob, a citizen and taxpayer, personally oppose this bill” all he wants. However, if in so doing, he draws attention to himself in a manner that could be interpreted as representing DHS, the Governor would be well within his rights to fire Bob.

    Nothing to see here. Move along.

    • Steve Plunk

      Bob might also want to maintain the important programs within his department ahead of those of another department. Who is Bob then more obligated to? The Governor? The Legislature? The citizens? Is Bob’s opinion as the department head, as opposed to Bob as citizen and taxpayer, subject to the Governor’s censorship?

      • Ozymandius

        Bob works for the Governor. End of story here. If he doesn’t like the Governor’s priorities, he can find a different line of work.

    • Joe

      Yeah. Move along. .org

    • Joe

      Yeah. Move along. .org

  • Al-smejkal

    What did you expect?

  • Al-smejkal

    What did you expect?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t agree with this at all. If someone has a differing opinion then the Governor, and God knows many of us do, public or private status of an employee shouldn’t matter. The Constitution states we have the freedom of speech. I can tell as Kitzhaber’s ideas for balancing a budget do not entail cutting employees or the budget, rather going through the backdoor with fees. Now a gag order on employees? What next?

    • valley person

      Do you have a job? If yes, you have the freedom of speech to tell your boss is he or she is dumber than a bag of hammers. You can’t be prosecuted for that. But you can be fired.

    • valley person

      Do you have a job? If yes, you have the freedom of speech to tell your boss is he or she is dumber than a bag of hammers. You can’t be prosecuted for that. But you can be fired.

      • Outofit

        Sadly, most Oregonians don’t have jobs.

      • Steve Plunk

        State employees have multiple bosses. If they have a boss who as dumb as a bag of hammers do they have an obligation to report it? Telling one branch of government about shortcomings in another seems to be proper and expected.

        • valley person

          They work for the executive branch Steve, which is run by the Governor. If you have a government where any department head could ask for whatever resources they want to legislative committees, I think that would be a chaotic way to do business. This isn’t done at any level of government I know of, including federal and local. Its amazing to me that as a business person you don’t get that.

          The governor is charged with presenting a budget to the legislative branch. He can’t have each department head contradictiing him.

          • Steve Plunk

            As a businessman I expect honest answers from my employees and vendors. If the Legislature is holding committee hearings they should expect the same rather than a department head parroting the party line as approved by the Governor.

            No one is calling for chaos but sometimes the truth may bring it. With limited resources various department might very well be competing against other departments but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be honest when questioned by our elected representatives.

            This screening of statements could do a serious disservice to the political and budgeting process. If it was so necessary for governing then why is it just coming up now? I see a micromanaging governor who once said Oregon is ungovernable. Maybe this is what he meant, he couldn’t control his own people like he wanted.

          • valley person

            I hope you expect those honest answers to you, not to the public or your competitors if they might damage your business. Again, the department head is a governor appointee. They answer to the governor. They are part of the administration team. Its not “parroting”. Its getting everyone on the same page.

            Who says they won’t be honest? It seems to me what the governor wants is they clear their public testimony with him before they give it. if he tells them to lie about something, then their ethical duty is to resign and go public about it.

            Screening of statements is good management. And it probably isn’t just coming up now. Kulongowski probably did the same thing. I would bet any governonr would do something similar.

            I think you are making something out of nothing. Worse, you are displaying a certain ignorance about managing government. Do you think your favorite governor out in Wisconsin does business with his department heads any differently? Do you really think a governor should just let department heads say whatever they feel like?

          • valley person

            I hope you expect those honest answers to you, not to the public or your competitors if they might damage your business. Again, the department head is a governor appointee. They answer to the governor. They are part of the administration team. Its not “parroting”. Its getting everyone on the same page.

            Who says they won’t be honest? It seems to me what the governor wants is they clear their public testimony with him before they give it. if he tells them to lie about something, then their ethical duty is to resign and go public about it.

            Screening of statements is good management. And it probably isn’t just coming up now. Kulongowski probably did the same thing. I would bet any governonr would do something similar.

            I think you are making something out of nothing. Worse, you are displaying a certain ignorance about managing government. Do you think your favorite governor out in Wisconsin does business with his department heads any differently? Do you really think a governor should just let department heads say whatever they feel like?

  • http://twitter.com/AFPOregon AFPOregon

    It’s interesting that the Governor wants to substitute his judgment for that of career professionals who might have been in their Agencies for decades. You just don’t see that kind of massive ego all that often. There’s probably not much point in the Legislature allowing Agency heads to testify since they will be forced to parrot whatever the Governor’s office tells them to, whether or not it’s factual or truthful.

    • Listeningstrong

      Well, he is obviously smarter than they are or they would be governor. I am glad to see this man take charge for once.
      I hope they shut all these trough feeders up. What can they say that matters to me?
      I will listen to what John says and that is enough for anyone.

      • Anonymous

        What rock are you living under?

  • Iwilltalk

    This is all so true. Plus, most government workers can’t be trusted to deliver the right message, so daddy long legs has to jump in and make it happen. What a powerful statement on his perception of the intelligence of state workers.

    • Anonymous

      Please cite your source for this information. People like you who stereotype all public employees should be ashamed of yourself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-K-Smith/1833373978 Tim K Smith

    Once again Senator Whitsett is leading the way to pointing out corruption and political skullduggery. Thank God we have men like him who will tell it like it is.

    tim

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Tim-K-Smith/1833373978 Tim K Smith

    Once again Senator Whitsett is leading the way to pointing out corruption and political skullduggery. Thank God we have men like him who will tell it like it is.

    tim

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Hey – Remember when the left was all agitated when Bush supposedly was silencing NASA officials from testifying that there was global warming when that position was at odds with the administrations position?

    Wow, they went nuts then. Officials should be able to speak their mind, even if it differed with the administrations position they said.

    Well – That was then, this is now.

    Moral – Free speech is great if it contradicts a Republican administration. If it contradicts a Democrat, then better watch what you say. Yet another example of the infamous leftest tendency towards totalitarianism.

    • valley person

      That falls into the category of asking them to lie to Congress. Global warming is not an opinion. Its a fact.

      • conservatively speaking

        VP, all Goreon, no Chuck Weise. D’oh!

        • valley person

          And Chuck Wise no National Academy of Sciences. Double D’oh!

          • Anonymous

            Because those that be knew he was telling the truth, therefore he was sacked.

          • conseratively speaking

            Michael Mooreon!

          • conseratively speaking

            Michael Mooreon!

  • Striperx

    Hey, JohnBoy: Thanks for the clarion call to ensure I’ll be feeding ‘the birdie’ until I retire in the coming months…

  • JudgeX

    I understand your apprehension, but with all due respect, you are woefully ill-informed on basic civics (remember fourth grade?). Agencies are within the executive branch. Agency directors and we employees who testify and/or offer opinion memos are direct employees of the Executive branch–that is the Governor’s office, my friend. Moreover, if you read the evidence you purport supports your querulous concerns, you will see that there is no prohibition of speech allowed–just a “heads-up” from the agency and an advisory opinion (however “strong”) from the administration; there is nothing new in that policy. You even hedge your own bold lede with the subordinate “[the policy] appears to require. . . ” Your staff (I am under zero delusion that this release represents your scholarship or authorship, Sen W) is either not doing its most basic homework or is disingenuously and artfully stacking the rhetorical deck; either way, you owe your readers an apology and clarification. As an example, just look what you’ve done to poor yay-hoos like Mr Smith below, who now has no idea what “the constitution” provides (Oregon or US, Sonny Jim?)–or how to spell “Kool Aid,” for that matter.

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