Gov. Brown cleans house at DEQ

The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission is a five-member panel appointed by the governor of Oregon for four-year terms to serve as the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s policy and rulemaking board. In addition to adopting rules, the commission also establishes policies, issues orders, judges appeals of fines or other DEQ actions, and appoints the DEQ director. (From Oregon.gov, emphasis added)

From the Eugene Register Guard:

In a highly unusual move, Gov. Kate Brown on Wednesday (March 29th, 2017) fired three of the five members of the Environmental Quality Commission, the governor-appointed volunteer board that oversees the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

Brown ousted Commissioners Colleen Johnson, Morgan Rider and Melinda Eden

Johnson was nominated for a second four-year term by Brown and re-confirmed by the Senate just 31/2 months ago. Rider had another 15 months left in her term; Eden had three months remaining in her term.

Brown’s office provided little public explanation for the firings.

Governor Browns’ office  immediately named three replacements for the fired Commissioners with a statement relating the changes to her concern over the policies of President Donald Trump.

However, the Register Guard cited two sources who said the Governor’s decision to terminate a voting majority of Commissoners and install her own appointees was because the Commission’s decision to hire a permanent DEQ Director that the Governor did not want.

The Important Public Policy Issue:

When an appointed Volunteer Citizens Commission fulfills one of it’s fundamental and most important duties as prescribed by Statute, And the Governor disagrees, should the Governor fire the majority of the Commission?

No one disputes the Governor has the power to fire Commissioners. And no one should dispute the power, or right, of the Governor to advise the Commissioners on their duty in hiring a Director. The Governor’s office has to work with agency Directors so it’s best if the relationship is constructive.

But the actions of Governor Brown are virtually unprecedented and she had alternatives.

She could have simply not reappointed the Commissioners who offended her. Two of the three were relatively short timers.  She could also have asked the Legislature, which is in session, to change the law so that the Governor appointed the head of DEQ, with the advice and counsel of the Commission.

Instead, she chose to punish these independent volunteer Commissioners for exercising their independent authority. Authority that they have by statute. This will not go unnoticed to the many other “Independent” Commissions in Oregon. Her actions will have a chilling effect and make other Commissions less independent and more cautious. This dimishes the purpose and value of independent citizen commissions.

The Important Next Step

The Governor owes the people, and especially the many other volunteer Citizen Commissioners in Oregon who may now fear acting independently, an explanation. And she may have one.

Assuming the Register Guards sources are correct, she likely advised the Commission that she simply could not work with their first choice. And that while a Governor should not in most cases have a “veto” over decisions lawfully delegated to a Commission, there are some exceptions such as where a Governor advises a Commission that selecting a particular person as Director would be particularly harmful to an agency’s mission. And when the Commission rejected that advice, she felt she would be unable to work with these Commissioners going forward. She could explain this extra ordinary power move as a unique situation based on these particular facts and personalities..

Such an explanation may not satisfy some, but it would at least be a rational explanation for an extra ordinary decision.

Blaming Donald Trump is not.

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