PORTLAND — LaVonne Griffin-Valade has been appointed Oregon’s new secretary of state, Democratic Gov. Tina Kotek announced in a news release Wednesday, filling the vacancy created when Shemia Fagan resigned last month over criticism for her consultancy work for a marijuana business.
Griffin-Valade worked as a government performance auditor for more than 16 years, according to Kotek’s news release.
“I know LaVonne Griffin-Valade first and foremost from her experience holding government leaders accountable, her ethical judgment and her reputation as a leader with a steady hand who rises above politics,” Kotek said Wednesday, speaking to reporters from the Oregon State Library in the state capital Salem. “Accountability and transparency are precisely what this role demands at this moment after the scandal in that office.”
Kotek added she thinks there should be “extra scrutiny” on the secretary of state in order to reestablish public confidence in the office, which oversees elections and audits state entities.
Fagan quit her post in early May after coming under fire for her side work for as a paid consultant for an affiliate of marijuana retailer La Mota. Her consulting job, first reported by Willamette Week, paid $10,000 a month, with bonuses three times that amount if she helped the company get licensed in other states. The secretary of state’s salary is $77,000 annually — established almost a decade ago.
Fagan started working for the marijuana business in February while her office was wrapping up an audit of the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission. The audit, released in late April, called for Oregon’s marijuana regulatory agency to “reform” some rules for marijuana businesses, describing them as “burdens” when combined with federal restrictions.
While Fagan had recused herself from the audit, she came under pressure from officials across the political spectrum following the revelations. Her resignation was welcomed by Speaker of the House Dan Rayfield, Senate President Rob Wagner, House Majority Leader Julie Fahey and Senate Majority Leader Kete Lieber — all of them fellow Democrats.
“Secretary of State Fagan’s severe lapses of judgment eroded trust with the people of Oregon, including legislators who depend on the work of the Audits Division for vital information on public policy,” they said in a news release May 2, the day she stepped down. “This breach of trust became too wide for her to bridge. Her decision to resign will allow the state to move on and rebuild trust.”
A note has since been added to the cover page of the audit, saying the Audits Division is cooperating with an examination of the report being led by the Oregon Department of Justice.
“Shortly before publishing this report, the Audits Division identified a threat to the independence of this audit and … determined that the threat did not affect the audit report,” the note says. “Should that examination reveal that the threat to independence affected the audit report, the Audits Division will withdraw, amend and reissue the report in accordance with auditing standards.”
Fagan’s consulting work for the La Mota affiliate also sparked concern as the business came under financial scrutiny. The co-owner, her partner and the business allegedly owe $1.7 million in unpaid bills and more in state and federal taxes, according to Willamette Week.
The co-owner has also hosted fundraisers for top Democratic Oregon politicians, including Fagan.
Fagan apologized for taking the outside job and attributed it to “poor judgment.” She told reporters she is divorced with two young children and has student loans and other bills she said her secretary of state’s salary was not enough to cover.
The new secretary of state, Griffin-Valade, was hired as an auditor for Multnomah County, home to Portland, in 1998. She then served as the elected Portland City Auditor from 2009 to 2014, according to Wednesday’s news release.
After leaving office in 2014, Griffin-Valade earned a Master of Fine Arts in writing from Portland State University and pursued a writing career, publishing personal essays and a mystery book series, Kotek’s office said. She was born and raised in the high desert of eastern Oregon.
“I have the experience to bring back credibility, accountability, transparency, and trust to the Secretary of State’s office,” Griffin-Valade said in the news release. “It’s never been more important to have a leader who will focus on rebuilding the public’s trust in the Secretary of State’s office, and that is exactly what I will aim to do every day.”
She will serve the remaining 18 months of the current term. She will be sworn in Friday in Salem.