For the second time in just over a year, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown has abruptly changed her chief of staff.
This morning, Brown announced that her current chief of staff, Kristen Leonard, will leave her $185,510-a-year post on Jan. 31.
That is unusual timing, as Leonard's final day is just one day before the Oregon Legislature begins what promises to be an extremely challenging session for Brown.
The move comes less than 14 months after Brown picked Leonard to replace her first chief of staff, Brian Shipley.
Although the announcement from Brown's office says that Leonard resigned, the move comes after unflattering news reports and other departures suggestive of staff turmoil.
In October, WW reported that Leonard and her husband, Kevin Neely, had a financial interest in a book-keeping firm that had Brown's re-election campaign as its largest client.
Then in December, WW reported that a software company Neely owns had $214,000 contract with the state that is up for renewal this year.
That contract created a potential conflict of interest that Leonard had failed to disclose until WW asked about it. Similarly, she failed to disclose a potential conflict of interest that arose from Neely's work as a lobbyist for the Oregon District Attorney's Association.
Those stories were awkward for Brown, who'd entered office on Feb. 18, 2015 pledging to clean up state government after conflicts of interest forced the resignation of her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber.
Just before Christmas, Leonard finally disclosed her potential conflicts in writing, as state ethics law requires.
Chris Pair, a spokesman for Brown, says the potential conflicts had nothing to to do with Leonard's departure. Instead, he says, she is considering various options including returning to her previous position at the Port of Portland.
Leonard's exit comes after two other high-profile defections from Brown's team. Gina Zejdlik, Brown's ethics and public records advisor and a holdover from Brown's tenure as secretary of state, quietly left the office Aug. 31, following maternity leave, and Brown's communications director, Kristen Grainger, left effective Dec. 31.
Both submitted their resignations without having other jobs in hand. Zejdlik is now temporarily helping Brown find her next chief of staff, while Grainger starts a new position as president of the Oregon Alliance of Independent Colleges and Universities later this month.
Brown praised Leonard in a statement announcing her resignation.
"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."
UPDATE, 7:45 pm: The Oregonian reports that Leonard's newly hired deputy, Abby Tibbs, has also resigned.
WW reported last month that Tibbs helped prepare the governor's proposed budget while still an employee at Oregon Health & Science University—another potential conflict casting a shadow on Brown's office.