At-large MHCC District board member Michael Calcagno recently stepped down from his intriguing, but demanding, day job in Salem.
Calcagno, who owns a small video production and media business, resigned from his position as communications director for Oregon’s newly elected secretary of state, Dennis Richardson, a Republican.
During Richardson’s 2016 campaign for office, Calcagno’s company, Calcagno Media Video Production, was hired to make promotional videos. After Richardson’s win in November, Calcagno was offered the communications director job.
“I stayed on with his campaign, producing videos until the day before the election,” he said. “Dennis and I built a good relationship during those campaign months and in November, after the victory, he offered me that position to serve.”
The job in Richardson’s office, inside the Capitol building, was not guaranteed.
“I basically said, ‘Well, I sort of need a firm commitment that this is going to be a long-term position,’” said Calcagno. “The answer that came back, was basically, ‘These positions are appointed positions, so they are transitional in nature.’ ”
Calcagno committed six months to the job, choosing to commute rather than move to Salem. Playing a role was a newborn child, he added.
During his brief time at the Capitol, Calcagno said he worked to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of his department. Oregonians hadn’t elected a Republican secretary of state for over 40 years, he noted, leaving an opportunity.
“Over those 40 years, when you don’t have that natural transition of leadership (between political parties), I don’t think you’re going to fully maximize the effectiveness of your operation,” he said.
As an example, he explained that the Secretary’s office releases rather lengthy audit reports. “I’m pretty sure there’s only a handful of people who are reading every single page of that 40-page report,” he said – so his goal was to present those reports in more reader- friendly ways.
As a publicly elected, voting member of the MHCC board, Calcagno had to make sure his communications director job didn’t pose a conflict of interest.
“You have to look at the four divisions that Dennis (Richardson) oversees,” said Calcagno. “He oversees elections, audits, corporations, and archives.” Elections and audits posed potential conflicts of interest, he explained.
“I made a full disclosure to Dennis when I came into the office: ‘I have this role, (have) been duly elected, I don’t intend to resign, I want you to be aware in case there’s ever a conflict that arises,’ he told Richardson. If Mt. Hood was ever audited by the Secretary of State’s office, Calcagno would have had to recuse himself from that process, for example.
Once on the job, Calcagno realized how difficult it was “to change the culture of state government,” he said. “It’s really hard to change those institutions because there is so much that is culturally ingrained and then there are so many structural hindrances to innovation and efficiency.”
Last year, even as he teamed up with GOP candidate Richardson, Calcagno ran as an Independent Party candidate for the Oregon House District 50 seat, but lost to the incumbent, a Democrat.
Presently, he said he has no further political ambitions. His focus is his business and his family, and serving on the MHCC board. His current term runs through May 2019.
A critic of the college’s 2016 measure try a year ago, he said supports Mt. Hood’s bond efforts this time. “I support the bond; I want the bond to pass. If this community doesn’t support the college, we won’t be able to catalyze the change we all want to see,” he said.
He said he also hopes more individuals would get involved in their communities.
“All I hope is that people run for school board, not just (Mt. Hood’s district board), but in general,” he said. Whether it’s running for office, starting an action committee, creating a petition or an initiative, or volunteering on bond efforts, “I hope people decide to prioritize that engagement,” he said.