Long-Serving Director of Oregon Government Ethics Commission Retires

Ron Bersin retired Nov. 30 but will stay on in interim role as the commission seeks a replacement.

One of the state’s longest-serving agency directors officially retired Nov. 30.

Ron Bersin, who has led the Oregon Government Ethics Commission since 2006, told the nine-member commission it was time to find his successor.

“It has been a honor to work with the commissioners and staff of the commission over the years,” Bersin says. “The work performed by the commission is important to the state of Oregon, ensuring Oregon is transparent and free of corruption.”

The OGEC is responsible for enforcing the state’s ethics laws, which broadly speaking require public officials to act with integrity. The agency provides regular training to public officials and maintains a registry of their required statements of economic interest, as well as registering lobbyists and tracking their expenditures.

Under Bersin’s leadership, the commission’s funding moved in 2007 from the general fund to a formula under which local governments pay 50% and state agencies pay the other 50% on a per capita assessment. That change provided stable funding and removed the prospect of lawmakers starving the agency to prevent it from investigating complaints.

The commission is bipartisan and meets about every six weeks. Each of the four legislative caucuses nominates two members to the governor and the governor appoints one member directly.

Under Bersin’s leadership, the agency tackled the highly sensitive investigation of Gov. John Kitzhaber, who resigned in 2015 during an influence-peddling investigation.

Related: Former Gov. John Kitzhaber Pleads for His Legacy in Front of Oregon Government Ethics Commission

The commission found Kitzhaber had violated Oregon ethics laws and fined him $20,000. Former first lady Cylvia Hayes, whose private consulting contracts, first reported by WW, were at the heart of the ethics probe, subsequently agreed to pay $50,000 to the commission for violating ethics laws (but because she filed for bankruptcy, Hayes paid just $12,000).

Most of Bersin’s work involved more mundane concerns ensuring local officials complied with ethics laws and public officials and lobbyists filed disclosure statements in a timely manner to provide a way for the the public to track their financial interests and activity. He will stay on as interim director through the legislative session but has asked the commission to find a new director by the end of next year.

OGEC chairman Dave Fiskum, the retired co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, says Bersin will be hard to replace.

“Over my 40 years of being in and around Oregon state government, I have seen and worked with many state agency heads, including reporting to a few of them. One of the best is Ron Bersin,” Fiskum says. “As he moves toward retirement, I have the utmost respect for the clarity, honesty, and transparency he has brought to ethical conduct and behavior on part of public officials.”