Emails Show Ex-Gov. Kitzhaber Cleared Way for Fiancee's Conflicting Roles

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By Laura Gunderson

Former Gov. John Kitzhaber was more active than previously known in clearing the way for fiancée Cylvia Hayes to be active in his administration even while working as a paid consultant to outside interests, according to newly released state emails.

The records contained in 94,000 emails released Friday by state also show Hayes was more pervasively involved in government affairs than has been documented -- opening doors to Kitzhaber for associates, directing state workers, and asserting her place at key internal staff meetings.

An ongoing review of the emails, however, has not yet yielded any truly stunning disclosures about Kitzhaber and his fiancée, who are both targets of a federal criminal influence peddling investigation. Reporters from The Oregonian/OregonLive reviewed an estimated one-third of the documents by Saturday evening. The portrait emerging so far is of a fiancée determined to make her place as first lady and savvy professional, tending vigorously to her public image.

The portrait is incomplete because the bulk of Kitzhaber's own email traffic while in office remains off limits. The records released by Gov. Kate Brown's office include tangential references to or limited copies of Kitzhaber's messages.

Emails that Kitzhaber sent and received contradict his more recent assertions that Hayes wasn't a public official and that he did everything possible to keep her state work distinct from her consulting business.

Just last year, Kitzhaber directed his staff to engage Hayes in the policy work of the office.

"It is important that the work Cylvia does on the Prosperity Initiative (and the remarkable following she has created) is coordinated and aligned with the overall administration," Kitzhaber wrote last year as he mapped out plans for a fourth term.

"That is, she needs to be engaged in strategic planning and long-term scheduling; she needs communication support for her public appearances; and the groups she is convening, her efforts to secure grant funding, etc., need to be part of our overall strategic plan."

The email archive dates back to the start of the administration.

In an interview once, Hayes recounted how she realized while jogging after the 2010 election that she would become first lady. She said she laughed at how she wasn't even sure what the term even meant.

Yet emails show the newly christened first lady quickly got the hang of it. And so did the governor's staff.

In an email two days after Kitzhaber's inauguration January 2011 inauguration, Kitzhaber staffer Leslie Roth welcomed Hayes.

"I'd love to get together to discuss how I can smooth the transition for you of moving into Mahonia," she wrote, "and becoming such a big part of the Governor's Office."

The emails show Hayes assumed the role of gatekeeper between the governor and those seeking his audience after he took office in 2011. The archive shows individuals repeatedly approached her as a way to reach Kitzhaber with ideas and with appointment and speech requests.

Steve Bella, a longtime colleague and friend, sought support from the governor on an education program sponsored by the Wisconsin-based Center for State Innovation, for which he was serving as a fellow.

"Cylvia: here are some specific items I could use JKs support," he wrote on Jan. 23, explaining how a shift in his focus would allow him to link Oregon up with the education program they were attempting to create. "If JK could mention his support for my assistance to Cam (adviser Cameron Smith) at the (Columbia River Crossing) rollout this Tuesday that would be great."

Hayes forwarded the message to Curtis Robinhold, then Kitzhaber's chief of staff.

"Please take a look at this. I will call you to discuss," Hayes wrote on Jan. 24. "I have already spoken with JK about it and he said it would be good to talk to you."

A month later, Hayes announced that she was taking a position with a Eugene-based nonprofit, Rural Development Initiatives,  that Bella's group had helped arrange.

When other outside groups asked for meetings with Kitzhaber, she asked them to contact scheduler Jan Murdock,  and she would forward their email. That's how she handled an invitation on Jan. 31, 2011, for the governor from the Craig Smith, executive director of Rural Development Initiatives.

In other cases of colleagues seeking help, Hayes added specific directions for Kitzhaber's scheduler.

Sometimes, Hayes requests were a gentle nudge:

"Can you help Washington State Rep. Bruce Chandler, cc'd above, to work on setting a time to talk with John about Columbia Gorge Commission issues," Hayes wrote on July 20, 2011.

The response from the scheduler: "Yep."

Other times, the message was more direct.

"Where do things stand regarding John making an appearance at the Net Impact conference the end of October," Hayes wrote on July 13, 2011. "This is one that he and I need to appear jointly or he not at all because they worked me to get to him and this is my field.

"How's that for direct?"

Kitzhaber directed his staff and outside parties to include Hayes in office communications. In one case, he asked a representative of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation to include Hayes in a discussion about a Pacific Coast Collaborative meeting.

Kitzhaber wrote on July 25, 2011, that he planned to send three key aides to the meeting.

"I would like to ask that Cylvia be kept in the loop on this even though she will not be attending this meeting," he wrote to the meeting organizers.

Later, Hayes landed a  $20,000 contract with the nonprofit Resource Media for Pacific Coast Collaborative projects.

In October 2011, Kitzhaber directed his top aides to add his fiancée to the governor's policy adviser team working on a 10-year budget plan.

Kitzhaber continued to work from the plan and it became the backbone for his final platform and legacy policies. To help judge those policies' success, Kitzhaber aimed to use a new metric.

He ultimately settled on the Genuine Progress Indicator, known as the GPI. Hayes helped bring the GPI to Oregon while she was being paid $25,000 to promote the economic measure in other states nationwide.

Throughout his third term, Kitzhaber directed his senior staffers to include Hayes as they set up meetings on policy issues ranging from climate change to forestry. He asked his communications staffs to run his prepared quotes by Hayes.

He also reminded his key aides that Hayes had to be involved. In response to a lengthy email from a staffer on climate change, Kitzhaber responded in part: "Could you please cc Cylvia on stuff like this."

Hayes is caught in the emails chiding or scolding Kitzhaber's staffers on matters ranging from missed meetings to key policies.

"Several developments and conversations over the past couple of weeks have led me to believe that I think we are giving mixed messages on our commitment/approach to clean energy and climate issues," she wrote in January 2013. "I think we need to have a serious conversation about this."

In an email soon after that was sent to Kitzhaber, Robinhold agrees to sit down with Hayes, adding it was "clearly not a topic that benefits from lengthy email chains."

(c)2015 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)

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