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2 More Leaving In Ongoing Shakeup Under New Oregon Secretary Of State

In less than two weeks, new Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno has dramatically changed at least the public face of the office.

In her first days in the position, Clarno ousted chief of staff Debra Royal, legal affairs director Steve Elzinga and deputy secretary Leslie Cummings.

On April 5, she made further changes, sending a letter to Larry Morgan, who holds a unique position as the office's citizen engagement and inclusion coordinator, announcing that the contract for his services will not be renewed when it expires at the end of June. And this week, a vocal critic of Oregon’s largest school district resigned her position as the secretary of state’s liaison to the state of education.

Reached Thursday, Morgan said he had not been able to sit down with Clarno to discuss the work he’d been doing for former Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, who died in February of brain cancer. Morgan’s efforts ranged from kick-starting Oregon’s Kid Governor program to helping organize annual diversity conferences to engaging cultural groups.

“I was really hoping and praying that I could have an opportunity to sit down with the secretary and talk about the work of diversity equity and inclusion,” Morgan said. “There have been several meetings that have been canceled.”

Morgan, who is black and a Democrat, was a notable hire for Richardson, an older white Republican who Morgan says was dedicated to improving his own cultural competency. And while Morgan says he still doesn’t have clarity about how he should continue his work as the contract nears expiration, he doesn’t take Clarno’s decision personally.

“I don’t anticipate that the decision was made for anything other than a financial reason,” he said. “I know that budgets are difficult.”

The Secretary of State’s Office has not responded to a request for its contract with Morgan, and did not comment when asked about the decision not to renew the agreement.

On the heels of Morgan being shown the door, the secretary of state’s controversial liaison to the State Board of Education is also gone — Kim Sordyl resigned Thursday.

Her resignation comes a year after legislators worked unsuccessfully to force her out through a failed bill that would have required that nonvoting liaisons from the secretary of state or state treasurer be staff members.

Richardson placed Sordyl on the state education board as his nonvoting designee shortly after he took office in January 2017. Sordyl, a Democrat and public school watchdog, had been a vocal supporter of Richardson leading up to the 2016 election. She’s also been an outspoken critic of the Portland Public Schools.

Sordyl’s resignation letter to Clarno criticized the new secretary and praised Richardson.

“Your actions are not only disappointing, but they demonstrate your own lack of understanding of the value that and his team brought us,” wrote Sordyl. “Rather than embracing those qualified leaders, your first priority was hiring your son.”

Sordyl’s letter is not the first criticism Clarno has drawn since taking office. Recent media reports have focused on allegations of nepotism involving her son, Randy Hilderbrand, as well as potential conflicts of interest surrounding Julia Brim-Edwards, a Nike executive and member of the Portland Public Schools board of directors.

Both Hildebrand and Brim-Edwards are serving in Clarno’s office in volunteer capacities. Brim-Edwards has said she’s avoiding discussions of school issues, such as the recent secretary of state’s office audit that was highly critical of PPS.

The secretary of state’s office said Clarno was not commenting on Sordyl’s resignation beyond her brief, emailed response to Sordyl. Clarno wrote, “I want to thank you for your service on the State Board of Education and to Secretary Richardson’s office.”  

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Rob Manning is a news editor at Oregon Public Broadcasting, with oversight of reporters covering education, healthcare and business. Rob became an editor in 2019, following about 15 years covering schools and universities in Oregon and southwest Washington as OPB’s education reporter.
Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.