A former Oregon governor and a prominent Portland lawyer have stepped down from the Oregon Center for Public Policy's board over concerns that former state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-Portland) might be hired as OCPP's next executive director.
Earlier this week, WW reported that the organization, a left-leaning think tank that is a significant player in Salem policy discussions, is considering two candidates to replace founder and executive director Chuck Sheketoff: Smith former Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick.
Both candidates are former politicos. Novick lost his Portland City Council seat to now-Commissioner Chloe Eudaly last year. Smith ran for Portland mayor in 2012 after two terms in the Oregon House. He lost to Charlie Hales in that race after a series of reports about his behavior, including news that he'd punched a young woman in a college incident, and now the executive director and a morning talk show host at XRAY.FM radio.
Smith also possesses previous non-profit leadership experience: he was a founder and the longtime executive director of the Oregon Bus Project, a group that seeks to engage young voters.
Novick, who like Smith is a graduate of Harvard Law School, also worked for years in public policy before running for office. His candidacy for the OCPP job drew strong support from key OCCP funders, including the Oregon Education Association, Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of State, Municipal & County Employees and the Oregon Nurses Association.
"We feel that a strong [executive director] who both understands policy, politics and research would continue that valuable relationship," representatives of those unions wrote to the OCPP board on June 7. "That's why we are encouraging you to consider Steve Novick as your new ED."
Sources familiar with the process say the board is deeply divided over the two candidates but was leaning toward Smith.
Some members, including board chairman Will Neuhauser and Ken Lewis, a retired shipping executive, are said to have favored hiring him. Others either had concerns about Smith or wanted to hire Novick.
Kulongoski submitted his resignation effective Aug 1.
Asked via email on Friday whether his resignation was related to concerns about Smith getting the job, Kulongoski replied simply "yes," but declined to elaborate.
Tienson, a trial lawyer with the Landye Bennett Blumstein firm, was more forthcoming about his Aug. 17 resignation
"I didn't like the way that the process of replacing Chuck Sheketoff was being handled," Tienson says. "It became very acrimonious."
"I don't believe Jefferson Smith has demonstrated he's ready to lead an organization like the Oregon Center for Public Policy," he adds.
Sheketoff, who founded OCPP 20 years ago, did not return a call seeking comment. Neither did Smith or Lewis.
Neuhauser, the board chair, declined to address the board members' departure and said no decision has been made on hiring a new executive.
"The OCPP board's recruiting process is on-going and we continue to process incoming applications as well as vetting those that have met our core criteria," he emails.