The Oregon Business & Industry’s Board has fired its chief executive amid reports that he made inappropriate comments and that his staff was, after just six months on the job, fracturing.
The board said in a statement Wednesday morning it had asked Mark Johnson to step down after news broke that Johnson had allegedly made an “inappropriate comment” during a private meeting.
While the board’s statement on Johnson’s dismissal didn’t specifically address the comment, the Oregonian reported that a staffer alleged Johnson made a reference to Portland Democratic Rep. Diego Hernandez, “and his chain-migration homeboys from the hood.”
Johnson told the newspaper he didn’t recall making the comment, but two other individuals told the Oregonian they heard the comments as well.
“Regardless of any joking intent, (the comment was) unacceptable and wholly inconsistent with OBI’s values and the values of its members,” Scott Parrish, the group’s board chair, and CEO and president of A-dec, said in a statement.
“At its meeting Tuesday evening, the OBI executive committee was informed of the inappropriate comment, and reached the unanimous decision to ask Mr. Johnson to step down as CEO,” Parrish continued.
The Oregonian piece also painted a picture of turmoil within the group, with four openings at top OBI spots.
OBI, the state’s largest business group, hired an investigator who found no pattern of misconduct. The board’s executive committee, though, eventually learned of the comment before taking action.
Ginny Lang, a former CenturyLink executive, will serve as OBI’s interim president as the group seeks a new CEO. Lang counts 30 years-plus of public policy experience in Salem.
Johnson started at OBI in November, becoming the group’s first chief executive. The organization resulted from the July 1 merger of Associated Oregon Industries and the Oregon Business Association. It counts 1,700 members and, in addition to policy work, works with insurers to provide workers’ compensation insurance and health care options to members, among other services.
Johnson represented Hood River as a Republican before taking the top OBI job. He had represented House District 52, which includes Johnson’s hometown of Hood River and parts of Clackamas and Multnomah counties, since 2010. He also wound down his long-time homebuilding business, Mark Johnson Contracting Inc.
He told the Business Journal in January that he was asked to apply for the job.
“I wouldn’t have considered putting my hat in the ring if I hadn’t been asked to do so,” he said. “It was not at all an easy decision to step back from representing my constituents and to step away from the relationships I’d formed in Salem. But the great thing is I still get to have relationships with my political colleagues. It’s about making good policy. It’s exciting. ”