Gov. John Kitzhaber's Ex-Schools Chief Violated State Travel Rules

Rudy Crew's Frequent Trips Came Under Scrutiny

Rudy Crew
John Kitzhaber

But Crew, 62, barely lasted a year before he bolted Oregon in June to become president of Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, N.Y. He left plenty of unfinished business and little to show for his time in Oregon. 

As it turns out, he didn’t spend all that much time here. 

Records obtained by WW under the state's public records law suggest the governor and the Oregon Education Investment Board left Crew unsupervised in his high-profile job. He spent much of his tenure jetting to conferences and private speaking engagements in faraway locales such as Alaska and the Bahamas, often flying first class. 

On Feb. 13, for example, his calendar shows Crew tried to charge the state $336 for a town car to shuttle him to and from Portland International Airport and his Salem home for a trip to Washington, D.C. On that trip, Crew also charged the state $350 to have his ticket upgraded to first class

He didn’t get away with the extras. On Feb. 21, Angelique Bowers, a state accountant, flagged the expenses as improper. “We are unable to reimburse an employee for airfare other than coach class,” Bowers wrote to Crew’s assistant. She also said the state would not pick up the car tab. 

Crew has not yet responded to WW for comment.

A spokeswoman for Gov, John Kitzhaber's office says the governor took steps to address issues with Crew's travel. "As soon as we saw it was a problem the issue was raised with Dr. Crew," says Kitzhaber spokeswoman Amy Wojcicki

She said the state does not plan to seek any reimbursement from Crew. "We have come to an agreement on Dr. Crew’s separation with the state," she said. "Beyond the terms of this agreement we are not aware of any additional expenses that the state would seek to reimburse."

From Crew’s calendar and time sheets, it’s difficult to determine when he was working and when he was not. 

Crew’s resignation agreement with the state, dated July 3, refers explicitly to that confusion. 

“OEIB had some uncertainty regarding proper reporting of travel expenses incurred by employee, and employee asserted that all travel expenses paid by OEIB were probably an obligation of OEIB,” the agreement states. 

His calendar shows Crew was out of the state at least 63 days in the year he worked here. Crew took 32 vacation days, and was out of the office another 17 days for furloughs, sick leave and personal days. 

In all, Crew took at least 17 trips out of state—some paid for by taxpayers, others by groups paying to hear him speak—that took him to such cities as New York, Santa Fe, N.M., and Las Vegas

Crew came to Oregon after a series of high-profile jobs: He was chancellor of public schools in New York City and then superintendent in Miami, and was mentioned as a candidate for just about every big-city superintendent's job in the country (“Wrecking Crew,” WW, Jan. 16, 2013). 

Records show, for example, that on Thursday, May 9, Crew flew first class to San Francisco to give a speech to a group called Partners in School Innovation. The next day, he flew from San Francisco to the Bahamas for a Friday evening kickoff for an institution called the Parent Academy at Lyford Cay International School. He gave a keynote speech in Nassau the next day. 

Crew’s time sheets show he reported both days as work days. Yet neither the San Francisco nor Bahamas event had any apparent connection to his job. If Crew was in fact working on those trips, state ethics laws prohibited him from traveling first class, even if the host organization paid his expenses. And if he wasn’t working, state law prohibited him from claiming he was on official business. 

This spring, Kitzhaber transferred an experienced state administrator, Lisa Van Laanen, into Crew’s office to inject some discipline. But she was unable to figure out how Crew spent his time. 

“I am unable to confirm the accuracy of Rudy’s time and do not feel like I am able to sign authorizing these hours,” Van Laanen wrote on his time sheet June 17. “Maybe it can be routed to the [governor’s] office for signature?” 

Crew was supposed to shake up Oregon’s struggling education system and implement Kitzhaber’s education reforms, which call for 100 percent of students to graduate from high school and 40 percent to graduate from college by 2025. 

“He has the courage to do what’s right, even if he needs to ruffle a few feathers to do it,” Kitzhaber said when he introduced Crew on May 30, 2012. 

But Crew had little impact on the state’s education system. Lawmakers funded only a fraction of his biggest initiative—$120 million for regional teachers’ academies—and little has noticeably changed in the year he was here. 

Key lawmakers noticed his absence. Crew was scheduled to meet weekly with the co-chairs of the Joint Ways and Means Subcommittee on Education. 

“He missed at least 50 percent of our scheduled meetings,” says Rep. Betty Komp (D-Woodburn), one of the co-chairs. “The governor’s staff was doing its best to keep the OEIB’s goals moving forward, but their leader [Crew] was missing.”

WW intern Sara Sneath contributed to this story.