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COURTESY STATE OF OREGON - Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, has been appointed the state's chief operating officer by Gov. Kate Brown.SALEM — Katy Coba, the director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture, has been appointed the state’s chief operating officer and director of the Department of Administrative Services, the state’s overarching administrative agency, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s office announced Wednesday.


Coba’s appointment is effective Oct. 1 but requires confirmation by the Oregon Senate in September, according to a news release from the Governor’s Office.

Coba, who has been agriculture director since 2003, started working in state government in 1985.

Kristin Grainger, a spokeswoman for the governor, said Coba, a Pendleton native, was a “proven leader” and “committed to excellence” in state government.

“Her roots in rural Oregon and Eastern Oregon were influential as well,” Grainger said.

Grainger said the state’s budget development process will likely be a focal point for Coba in her new position.

A news release from the Governor’s Office also cited Coba’s experience as part of the Enterprise Leadership Team, a group of state agency leaders that advises the governor and chief operating officer.

The Department of Agriculture’s deputy director, Lisa Charpilloz Hanson, will serve as interim director starting Oct. 1, until a successor to Coba is appointed, according to the news release.

George Naughton has been the interim director of DAS since March 2015, according to Wednesday’s news release. He will continue to be the department’s chief financial officer.

Naughton was appointed interim director when Michael Jordan, the chief operating officer under former Gov. John Kitzhaber, announced his resignation, effective April 1 of that year.

Clyde Saiki, who now heads the state Department of Human Services, also served as interim director of DAS before he was appointed to lead DHS in November. At that time, Naughton stepped in again to lead DAS in an interim capacity.

Coba, reached by phone Wednesday, said she wanted to be an “ambassador for public service” in her new role.

She said she intends to focus on outreach and recruiting new, diverse employees to state agencies to replace the state’s retiring workforce.

She also said another priority during her tenure would be addressing Gov. Brown’s stated intention to improve accountability and transparency in state government.

She said there are a number of complex challenges facing the agency, and although they are somewhat familiar territory thanks to Coba’s role on the Enterprise Leadership Team, she said, she plans to begin her new role by meeting with other state agency directors, legislators and “other leaders around the state” and listening to their feedback on DAS.

Coba said she also wanted to inform Oregonians about state government and its purpose and functions.

“The Department of Agriculture is really a great role model,” Coba said. “We focus on education and outreach and providing technical expertise to the people we interact with, and that is our first goal in the work that we do.”

She said that it was an “interesting time” in public discourse around state government, citing the distrust of government displayed by protesters during the occupation of the Malheur National Wildife Refuge in Harney County earlier this year.

Although the occupiers were protesting what they characterized as federal overreach, Coba said the underlying message of a “regulatory burden” was one shared by other state residents.

Coba said she had been approached previously by the Governor’s Office about the position, but said she indicated at the time that she was not interested.

But the governor’s office persisted, Coba said, and the first “serious conversation” about Coba taking over the job as head of DAS occurred less than a month ago, she said.

State Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, described Coba as a qualified leader with the “character,” “smarts,” and “bona fides” to lead the agency.

“With as many agencies as have problems right now, the [Oregon Department of Agriculture] is not one of those that my constituents call me about, and I represent a rural and agricultural district,” Johnson said.

Although Coba will be leading what Johnson describes as “huge bureaucracy” at DAS, the state senator said Coba would quickly gain the trust of other agency directors because of her experience as an agency head.

“...If anybody is up to the task of trying to wrestle with the issues at DAS, it’s Katy,” Johnson later continued. “She’s a seasoned professional.”

Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, echoed Johnson’s statement.

“If I know anything about Katy Coba, she’ll get the job done,” Courtney said in a statement Wednesday.

State service is something of a family business for Coba.

Coba’s husband, Marshall Coba, is a lobbyist, and her parents served in state government.

Her father, Mike Thorne, was a state senator from 1973 to 1991, going on to serve as director of the Port of Portland until 2001 and as the chief executive of the Washington State Ferry System from 2002 to 2004. Coba’s mother, Jill Thorne, was an aide to former Gov. Neil Goldschmidt.

According to Coba’s biography on the state Department of Agriculture website, she was raised on a wheat farm and attended Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., earning a B.S. in economics.

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