Will Saxton be held to account for OHA scandal?

If you follow Oregon politics you are probably aware of the latest Oregon Executive branch scandal you know that Oregon Health Authority employees secretly conspired to besmirch and attack a health care provider that it was at political and legislative odds with. Nick Budnick of the Portland Tribune wrote a stellar investigative piece on this scandal.

Today, the Oregon Business Journal wrote an article with the OHA’s response.

Asked about the plan and related documents, Oregon Health Authority spokesman Robb Cowie wrote in an email that they were intended to “sketch out a range of outreach options and messages we explored to counter FamilyCare’s aggressive and often incorrect public statements. They were never formally reviewed or approved, or fully implemented.”

Here is part of a letter from OHA Director Lynn Saxton that was issued in response to the Tribune article:

I am writing to express my sincere regret that a draft communications plan implied that OHA thought sharing negative information about FamilyCare with media was an acceptable strategy. Let me be clear: it is not an acceptable strategy for OHA or any state agency. This draft plan developed by OHA staff in the heat of ongoing litigation was not implemented or acted on in any way. No OHA staff sought to pitch negative stories to media about FamilyCare. These ideas were shelved in their draft form because they weren’t in keeping with how we conduct ourselves at OHA.
However, here is Mr. Budnicks report regarding an email from Ms. Saxton when she was included in the outline of the illegal secret lobbying plan by OHA:
In a Feb. 18 email, however, Saxton signaled her approval of the most aggressive draft of the plan released by OHA, saying she’d read it and there were some new developments that “will build on the already good start you have outlined.”
Would her staff really have developed a plan like this – which they had to have known was out of the ordinary and risky – without getting approval from higher ups? Including the Director. Highly unlikely. And in fact The Business Journal included in it’s story this:

Saxton said in an interview that the plan was developed last January by staff members who thought they were operating under attorney-client privilege. It was shelved early on.

“This one didn’t make it to editing stage,” she said. “I take responsibility, the buck stops on my desk. I’m very apologetic and appalled this occurred.”

Was Ms. Saxton only knowledge of the secret plan from this February 18th email? I doubt it. She seems to be referencing a plan that she already had knowledge of. This email is the smoking gun.
Ms. Saxton’s claim that the staff thought they were operating under attorney/client confidentiality should scare us more than appease us. What other questionable or unethical conduct is OHA shielding under the guise of attorney/client privilege.  What other facts regarding the secret hit job against FamilyCare is OHA still not revealing because – in it’s opinion – it’s still covered by attorney/client protection? The attorney / client privilege has too often been abused by both Democratic and Republican administrations in the past, but never so often as it appears to be used by the current and former Governors administrations. The reasonable inference from the February 18th email from Ms. Saxton is that there are other communications related to the secret hit job against FamilCare and that Ms. Saxton was aware of the planning.
Oregon has no laws restricting using public funds for lobbying purposes. Maybe it should, a dozen other States do have legal limitations. So while perhaps no laws were broken, public trust was broken. Ms. Saxton’s claims of innocence are unpersuasive. And even viewing the facts in a light most favorable to Ms. Saxton by assuming Ms. Saxton first learned of the plan to secretly attack FamilyCare on February 18th, 2017, her email inferring approval of the plan and her failure to at least quash the plan officially means she must go. Her response should have been: “Are you nuts?! Stop that insane thought and see me right away so we can make sure that any action you may have taken is immediately undone and we fully inform the Governors office and any Legislators you had contact with. “
Instead she praised their work. That shows a complete lack of judgment, or government hubris run amok.
The only way to build public trust is for the Governor to terminate those responsible for protecting and building that trust when they fail to do so. And that starts with Lynn Saxton who at a minimum showed a gross failure in an ability to identify right from wrong.

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