Probe finds wrongdoing by former governor’s girlfriend
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Cylvia Hayes, the girlfriend of former Gov. John Kitzhaber, used her official position for personal gain, an investigator with the Oregon Government Ethics Commission concluded in a report released Wednesday.
Hayes was seeking backing, including salary and travel expenses, from private benefactors in order to develop clean energy and protect the ocean through her consulting firms. The report said she used her official capacity as an unpaid policy adviser in the governor’s office and as first lady to pursue those goals.
The 153-page report also offers a behind-the-scene glimpse at life in the governor’s mansion and in the governor’s office. Emails cited in the report show Kitzhaber, who resigned in 2015 just over a month into his fourth term, trying to accommodate his girlfriend, who became his fiancée in 2014. They are still together but haven’t announced marriage plans.
“Let me start by saying that I appreciate that everything you are feeling right now is legitimate ... the sense of isolation; the feeling that you and I are not saving the world together,” Kitzhaber said in a 2011 email. “I also think that getting you set up in the office will be an important step to get you out of that big house and around your loving peeps (especially this peep) during the work day.”
Hayes ordered around state employees, and even had at least one of them take care of her pets and shuttle them around, the report said.
The report recommends commissioners, who meet on Friday, make a preliminary ruling that Hayes violated state law.
Hayes did not respond to requests for comment by email and phone message, but the report contains her contention, presented by her attorney during a preliminary review, that she wasn’t a public official. Therefore, she said, the commission has no jurisdiction over her actions.
“She was not a lobbyist for particular legislation, none of her time was clearly defined as ‘public time,’ and she did not have authority to implement policy,” her lawyer said.
The report noted a judge previously ruled Hayes was a “public body” because she had Kitzhaber’s authority to develop policy, was reimbursed for expenses, had an office in the governor’s office and authority over government employees.
That authority extended to pet maintenance, the report said.
Hayes asked a governor’s assistant in 2013 to stay in Mahonia Hall, the governor’s official residence in Salem, when Hayes was going to be in California, leaving behind her dog Tessa. The assistant seemed reluctant but then replied in an email: “whatever you think works best for Tessa works for me.”
A couple of months later, that same assistant emailed the governor, who also had a home in Portland, that she “promised Cylvia that I would stay at Mahonia with Tessa this evening.”
One official on the governor’s team who was the lead person for a roundtable discussion on climate risk pushed back when Hayes said she intended to add ocean acidification to the agenda.
“We have 25-plus multiple players and personalities trying to find alignment on some specific areas of work within official government agencies, so I hope you will understand that your agenda can’t always be at the top of the list, or on the list,” wrote Dan Carol, director of multi-state and strategic initiatives. He wound up making an effort to include ocean conversation in the forum.
Kitzhaber has admitted allegations he failed to publicly declare a potential conflict of interest between his elected position and Hayes’ work as a clean energy consultant.
The ethics commission recently rejected a proposal that he be fined $1,000 fine, with some members believing it was too low and that the former Democratic governor hasn’t shown sufficient contrition.
The investigative report on Hayes was prepared by investigator Marie Scheffers, approved by ethics commission Executive Director Ronald Bersin and reviewed by Assistant Attorney General Amy Alpaugh.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky