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The Oregon Health Authority never conducted a basic internet search of candidates' backgrounds for a top state benefits administrator job last year, instead hiring James Raussen, who'd been caught in an ethics violation while an Ohio lawmaker and who subsequently quit his Chicago city job after an investigation was launched into his office there.


The Oregon Health Authority never conducted a basic internet search of candidates' backgrounds for a top state benefits administrator job last year, instead hiring James Raussen, who'd been caught in an ethics violation while an Ohio lawmaker and who subsequently quit his Chicago city job after an investigation was launched into his office there.

Raussen lasted just eight months in his new Oregon job before being placed on leave. He resigned Nov. 8 while under an investigation into potentially illegal gifts and improper spending that could have led to his termination.

Raussen denies wrongdoing. But had the health authority done a better job of vetting, the Oregon Educators Benefits Board might well have selected a different person for the job of administrator, says Dave Fiore, a former OEBB member. He says the Raussen case should be cause for the state to re-examine how it vets job candidate's backgrounds.

"When something like this happens and puts egg on the face of everybody, there's a problem in the system, and we need to take a look at that," says Dave Fiore, who stepped down recently after six years on the board.

OEBB is part of the Oregon Health Authority and oversees health benefits for about 150,000 current and retired employees of local school districts, community colleges and other agencies.

In November 2015, the board hired Raussen to fill a post that had been open for two years. Reporter Chris Gray of the health news website The Lund Report wrote an article about Raussen's ties to a former Chicago comptroller, Amer Ahmad, who was convicted of accepting bribes and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Ahmad, a former Ohio deputy state treasurer, had hired Raussen, a former Ohio state lawmaker, to be his top deputy in Chicago. But then Ahmad was indicted for crimes stemming from his tenure in Ohio, and Raussen resigned in May 2014

Raussen quit after the city had hired a law firm to investigate Ahmad's tenure, including questions about Raussen. That came after the Chicago Sun-Times revealed that an insurance company received more than $2.5 million from the Chicago comptroller's office after it hired a lobbyist with ties to Raussen in Ohio. After a city employee emailed Raussen that the firm hadn't met his contractual obligations, the office granted the company a two-year extension worth $1 million. The Sun-Times found that Raussen had forwarded the employee's email to the insurer's lobbyist.

Fiore, the OEBB board member, says this information came as news to him and the other appointed board members, and it seemed to come as news to the Oregon Health Authority HR office as well.

"We're not allowed to vet people. ... They told us that that would be unethical. So we had to rely on their vetting," he said.

However, the Oregon Health Authority avoids conducting internet searches on job candidates even for top administrator jobs such as Raussen's, according to the agency.

"Even a simple internet search can reveal a person's personal, protected information — such as gender, race, disability or religious status — that should not factor into a hiring decision. The state prides itself on providing equal access to individuals and hiring a work force without considering, even implicitly, protected information — especially information that is published without consent or context. Due to these reasons, OHA has disfavored extensive internet searching of candidates," according to a statement released by OHA through spokeswoman Courtney Crowell. She said this is a common view, but the agency may reconsider this approach.

After The Lund Report wrote about Raussen's history, the OEBB board convened again to discuss whether it should reconsider the hire. To advise them, OHA's human resources office recontacted Raussen's references and his former employer, the city of Chicago.

"OHA did additional checking through Mr. Raussen's references and previous employment and found no valid reason to withdraw the offer of employment," said Crowell's email.

After consulting with OHA, the board decided to keep Raussen on, until finally putting him on leave in September.

According to documents released by the state about the subsequent investigation, insurers told OEBB board members that Raussen expected them to pick up the tab for pricey meals and wine, despite state laws that prohibit such behavior and limit gifts to $50.

According to documents from the investigation:

• In June, after an insurance conference in Las Vegas, Raussen and a female co-worker stayed an extra night at a hotel, with the total cost to the state of $586. Raussen claimed to have done so to meet with a manager for Providence Health who had spoken at the conference. However, that manager told investigators she'd never met Raussen or his colleague.

• Raussen accepted costly meals from insurers and consultants and got a free ticket to a Blazers' playoff game. At one meal, bottles of wine costing more than $120 were consumed, according to a state document.

• Raussen took detours to go wine tasting while using a state vehicle on state business.

• Raussen made inappropriate comments in the workplace and was dishonest during the state investigation.

The investigation called Raussen's behavior "particularly egregious and irresponsible" in light of an investigation of a lobbyist's gift to Raussen of tickets to an NFL game while an Ohio lawmaker. A legislative ethics committee required him to repay $644 and go through ethics training. The Ohio Attorney General referred the lobbyist to a local District Attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

Though it's easily found online, the Ohio ethics violation was never aired with the OEBB board, Fiore said.

Had that been brought to the board, along with everything else, the board might well have gone with the second choice for the job — who seemed equally qualified, according to Fiore. "It would have raised some definite red flags."

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