Vicki Walker’s appointment by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to head Oregon’s parole board came to an unforeseen and sudden end on Friday.
When a recent decline in state revenue rendered the board unable to pay Walker, the Oregon Board of Parole and Post-Prison Supervision asked the governor’s office and the Oregon Senate to remove her from her intended position as the board chairperson.
The state Board of Parole and Post-Parole Supervision is responsible for deciding when Oregon criminals can be released, based on periodic meetings and evaluations of inmates. The Senate confirms the governor-appointed board members for four-year terms, which Parole Board Executive Director Nancy Sellers said is difficult to end once it begins.
Walker’s appointment would have increased the amount of parole board members to four, exceeding the total that can be employed under the shrinking state budget. While Kulongoski has the legal ability to appoint a five-member board, state legislature budgets only possess the funds to pay three, which has been the number since 1987.
Both Kulongoski and the board knew about the budget constraints before Walker’s appointment, Sellers said, and it had been mutually decided that extra funding to maintain the four-person staff would be taken from funds controlled by the legislature’s Emergency Board.
In spite of this, September’s revenue decline of around $180 million forced the board and governor’s office to require one of the board members to step down, postponing the board’s expansion until a more financially stable time. Walker, who resigned from her state Senate seat in July after Kulongoski offered her the Board Chair position, volunteered to leave her recently acquired position on the Parole Board after hearing about the financial problems.
“As an agency we have the responsibility to manage the budget given to us by the Legislature,” Walker said in a Friday press release. “While it is abundantly clear this board needs a fourth member — and has for some time — in these tight fiscal times, I cannot continue to seek confirmation for a position for which there is no certainty that adequate funding will be available without jeopardizing other critical needs of the agency.”
Sellers, the board’s executive director, said she saw Walker’s offer as politically noble.
“I have been very impressed with Vicki,” said Sellers. “Her prior performance on the board has been stellar, and she is a highly qualified member, but unfortunately we have no leeway when it comes to financial decisions.”
Kulongoski appointed former Polk County Deputy District Attorney Aaron Felton vice chairperson of the Parole Board simultaneously to Walker’s repositioning, which automatically promotes him to the chairperson spot she leaves behind.
“Vicki believed that (Felton) had better background for the position, being an attorney well-versed in crime defense and civil liberties,” Sellers said. “She made it clear that he would be best for the chair.”
While disappointed about the change, Kulongoski affirmed on Friday his hope for the future. “I appreciate Vicki’s commitment to the Board and her willingness to stay with the agency at this time,” Kulongoski said in Walker’s press release. “I also believe Aaron is the right person to assume the role as Chair. I hope that the Senate confirms this appointment so we can begin moving forward with a full and functioning Board.”
Walker will work in the parole department in an administrator’s position until the end of the year, awaiting her future on the parole board. She will survey changes to parole-related laws, coordinate victim services and work with inmates, for an annual salary of $82,668. Walker would have received $97,000 a year as board chair.
“I know that Vicki will still be an invaluable addition to the board,” Sellers said. “It’s impossible to know what’s going to happen by the end of the year based on the changing revenue forecast, but we are determined to keep her on board.”
Walker clarified her allegiance to the board in the Friday press release. “I have made a commitment to the governor and to the hard-working staff at the Board that I will work with the legislature to seek a stable funding base for the Board and its growing
workload,” Walker said.
Whether she will eventually rejoin the Parole Board at her prior level remains undetermined.