Governor's chief of staff resigns
Resignation comes after news reports of Kristen Leonard's undisclosed conflicts of interest.
SALEM — Kristen Leonard has resigned as Gov. Kate Brown's chief of staff after 14 months on the job.
The resignation, effective Jan. 31, follows a series of articles by Willamette Week revealing that Leonard had failed to disclose at least two actual or potential conflicts of interest with the governor's office.
Chris Pair, the governor's interim communications director, said the resignation was "a mutual decision" unrelated to the alt-weekly's revelations.
"Her condition for accepting the job as chief of staff was always to serve for one year," Pair said. "She extended that service (at Gov. Brown's request) to ensure the completion of the budget and through the Governor's inauguration."
The governor praised Leonard Tuesday for her service.
"Kristen was instrumental in building an exceptional team of agency heads, board commissioners, and key administrators," Brown said. "During her tenure we increased Oregon's minimum wage, advanced important environmental initiatives, and delivered a budget that protects Oregon's K-12 schools despite a nearly $2 billion shortfall. Kristen executed this job with integrity and distinction, and I am grateful for her dedicated service."
WW reported in October that Leonard and her husband, Kevin Neely, had a stake in a bookkeeping firm that worked for Brown's election campaign. Two months later, the newspaper revealed that Leonard had failed to disclose two conflicts of interest: Neely's software company had a $214,000 contract with the state that was up for renewal and Neely works as a lobbyist for the Oregon District Attorney's Association. She later disclosed those conflicts in writing, the newspaper reported.
Leonard had a filed a required statement of economic interest with the state ethics commission in April related to her stake in the software company. But she did not disclose that conflict of interest in writing to the governor's office, WW reported. The statements of economic interest are available to the public through a search on the ethics commission's website.
Brown, a former secretary of state, has repeatedly pledged to restore accountability and transparency to the governor's office since succeeding Gov. John Kitzhaber, who stepped down in February 2015 amid allegations his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, used his position to win consulting contracts.
Leonard was hired to replace Brown's first chief of staff, Brian Shipley. Brown recruited Leonard from her job as public affairs director at the Port of Portland. When she took the position in November 2015, the Port Executive Director Bill Wyatt wrote in an email to staff that Leonard's was going "on official leave" and had accepted a "limited-duration assignment," The Oregonian reported at the time.
"This has been the most rewarding job of my career; yet also the most demanding," Leonard wrote in her resignation letter . "In line with our initial discussion upon accepting this position, I must now return to the obligations that I put on hold to serve in your administration."
By Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau Reporter
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