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Pro-transparency communications director cites changes in Richardson's staff for departure

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Michael Calcagno of Gresham has resigned as communications director to new Secretary of State Dennis Richardson. New Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson hasn't even been in office two months and he's already lost a member of his executive staff — communications director Michael Calcagno.

Calcagno, a Gresham resident who formally joined Richardson's transition team in December, formally resigned Monday, as was first reported by The Oregonian.

But Calcagno's explanation for his departure differed from what a top Richardson aide said yesterday, that Calcagno was tired of the commute to Salem.

"Over the last few months the leadership vision of the office has evolved as Dennis has brought in new leaders," Calcagno said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon. "I felt it was important to return to my community and serve in a different capacity."

Calcagno, a former reporter, early on tried to strike a note of transparency for Richardson, in keeping with the new statewide elected official's campaign platform. "I served a function to help transition the administration, help build the team and help guide the administration in a progressive way forward," Calcagno said Monday.

In Calcagno's absence, high-ranking Secretary of State officials were tasked with responding personally to reporters' requests. Richardson did not send out a press release about the staffing change and did not immediately name a replacement for Calcagno.

Before joining Richardson, Calcagno ran his own communications firm. He sits on the Mt. Hood Community College Board of Education. At the age of 28, in the November general election, Calcagno ran as an Independent candidate against incumbent Gresham lawmaker Carla Piluso, drawing nearly 19 percent of the vote.

Calcagno declined to elaborate on who he referred to with his "new leaders" comment. But since winning the election, Richardson has had a bit of a tumultuous time, hiring two high-ranking officials whose histories had raised questions for reporters. As detailed in The Oregonian, Richardson's elections director, Steve Trout, had in 2013 resigned from the job at the request of then—Secretary of State Kate Brown. Richardson's pick for Deputy Secretary of State, Leslie Cummings, resigned from the Employment Department during turmoil over a troubled IT project.

Questions about Calcagno's status were raised last week when he did not return several calls and emails from the Portland Tribune. On Friday, another Richardson staffer told the Tribune Calcagno was "unavailable" because of family matters. Calcagno's wife gave birth to a daughter in January.

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