Oregon lawmakers near potential hiring of equity officer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon lawmakers are close to hiring an official to address workplace harassment and retaliation complaints at the state Capitol — a position that has proven hard to fill and has been vacant for nearly two years.

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Conduct Committee on Monday announced they had picked a finalist for the job of legislative equity officer, but the person’s name was not released, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

“We’ve been going through a very detailed and comprehensive process to evaluate candidates, and to come up with an appropriate choice,” said Rep. Kevin Mannix, a Salem Republican and one of the committee’s co-chairs. The committee co-chairs “have a preferred candidate ready to proceed.”

The legislative equity officer is supposed to field complaints, launch investigations and help victims of harassment, retaliation or hostile behavior within the Capitol. The position arose from an overhaul of rules for addressing workplace misconduct following the fallout of a sexual harassment scandal in 2018 and is supposed to be more independent than the legislative attorneys and human resources officials who had handled such complaints.

The first person to hold the job, Jackie Sandmeyer, did so temporarily. The next officer, Nate Monson, resigned in June 2021. He was forced out after legislative officials learned of discrepancies on his resume. But he has since sued state officials, alleging he was pushed out for raising concerns such as poor record-keeping in the office he had been hired to lead.

The Legislature currently contracts with two law firms to handle complaints and investigations. Legislative officials had tried hiring to fill the position themselves but did not have any luck with repeated job postings. Officials later hired an out-of-state firm to compile a list of qualified candidates.

Lawmakers declined to provide a list of the candidates submitted by the firm. But there appeared to be a desire by the committee to move quickly on a hire.

“We will do it this week,” said Sen. Floyd Prozanski, a Eugene Democrat and committee co-chair.