This week I announced a Charter amendment proposal to ensure the public’s interest is protected by an organizational structure within the City of Portland that enables unfettered audits and investigations of bureaus.
The proposal will be discussed at a City Council work session scheduled for Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. Hull Caballero will seek Council approval on Jan. 25 to refer the Charter changes to voters in May 2017.
Independence is the bedrock of the City Auditor’s ability to serve the public with reliable and credible audits and investigations. The Auditor’s Office today is more of a watchdog than it was 30 years ago, and its independence has become impaired by organizational entanglements with bureaus it must hold accountable. The Charter should be updated to ensure my office is able to meet the public’s expectations for accountability and transparency in City government.
The changes I am proposing essentially change responsibility for decision-making about the Auditor’s Office from the City’s executive branch to the elected Auditor. They would address the organizational impairments that exist and mitigate the inherent conflicts of interest caused by Portland’s commission form of government. If adopted, the Auditor would be solely responsible for ensuring the office is accountable to the public with appropriate management controls and periodic internal and independent assessments, the results of which would be readily available.
The Charter amendment proposal includes:
- Placing the Independent Police Review and the Office of the Ombudsman into Charter. Currently, these functions, which investigate Portlanders’ complaints against the City, are in Code and can be removed from the Auditor’s Office or eliminated by a simple majority vote of the City Council. Placing them in Charter will mean only a vote of the people could eliminate these offices, which have been in the Auditor’s Office for 15 years. Charter protections would insulate these offices from political pressure and reprisal.
- Authorizing the Auditor to obtain independent legal advice that is focused on the mission of the Auditor’s Office. The Auditor should be able to obtain independent legal advice rather than being required to rely on the same attorneys who advise those she holds accountable. This is especially important when investigations involve other elected officials who appoint and supervise the City Attorney.
- Creating an independent budget process that ensures the Auditor’s Office is appropriately funded and insulated from political interference. The current process leaves the Auditor’s budget vulnerable to other elected officials whose bureaus are the subjects of audits and investigations. An independent budget process would respect both the City Council’s fiduciary role and the Auditor’s watchdog role.
- Affirming the Auditor’s Office is autonomous from the Office of Management and Finance and other bureaus. The Auditor should be responsible for personnel, procurement and other decisions and well as ensuring that proper controls are in place to comply with state and federal laws. The Auditor will periodically procure or conduct internal quality control reviews of divisions in the Auditor’s Office and report results to the public.
See news coverage:
Our Opinion: City should turn its watchdog loose (Tribune) http://portlandtribune.com/pt/10-opinion/334355-213937-our-opinion-city-should-turn-its-watchdog-loose
Auditor seeks more autonomy with reform measure (Tribune) http://portlandtribune.com/pt/9-news/334384-214175-auditor-seeks-more-autonomy-with-reform-measure
Portland City Auditor seeks more autonomy for her office (OPB) http://www.opb.org/news/article/mary-hull-caballero-portland-city-auditor-more-autonomy-for-office/
Portland’s elected auditor wants more autonomy (Oregonian) http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2016/11/portlands_elected_auditor_want.html#incart_river_home
Hall Monitor – A declaration of independence: Portland’s Auditor says she’s unduly strained. She wants you to change that. (Mercury) http://www.portlandmercury.com/news/2016/11/30/18720329/hall-monitora-declaration-of-independence
As a profession, auditing is often about sowing seeds and waiting (sometimes waiting for a long time) for results. Sometimes results from years-ago audits show up today, and we can track improvements over time.
But for one recent audit, our results were much more immediate, specific, and unquestionably caused by our audit work. In April, we issued an audit on presidential campaign visits. We found that in recent years, the City had spent at least $180,000 on protecting candidates campaigning or fundraising in Portland, but had not sought reimbursement. Police officers either worked overtime, which is an added cost to the City’s budget, or they were drawn away from their regular duties. We recommended that the City follow its policy and charge political campaigns or their organizers for the City’s cost.
In response, the Police Bureau agreed with our recommendation. In June, they billed a candidate’s campaign for more than $18,000 to cover Portland’s cost of sending police officers to Eugene, where they provided public safety services at a campaign rally.
In August, the campaign sent a check for the billed amount to the Police Bureau.
We’ll follow up more fully after Portland has billed for the costs of any other candidate visits this campaign season. We appreciate the Police Bureau’s efforts to implement our audit recommendations and are pleased with the immediate impact of our audit and the resulting reimbursement to Portland for its overtime costs to provide City services for campaign events.
-- Drummond Kahn and Minh Dan Vuong, Audit Services
City Council will hold a town hall meeting Monday, August 1, to solicit opinions about potential changes to the police accountability system to ensure compliance with the Department of Justice settlement agreement. The subject of the town hall is a proposal to streamline the complaint review process.
Portland Community College
Cascade Campus, 705 N. Killingsworth
Terrell Hall, Room 122
6 p.m.-8 p.m.
You also can submit your views in writing to the Mayor and Commissioners if you are unable to attend the town hall. Find their contact information here.
We have an audit underway to assess Portland's response to the Americans with Disabilities Act. We are looking for 10 individuals with disabilities willing to share their experiences about accessing City services, facilities, and/or infrastructure.
Contact Kristine Adams-Wannberg in Audit Services at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested in providing information for the audit. Your participation will involve a 30-minute interview, and your identity will not be disclosed. We also will provide a token of our appreciation for your help!
This is a great opportunity to share your direct experiences interacting with City services. Please note this audit applies only to City services. It does not include Multnomah County or TriMet services.
-- Kristine Adams-Wannberg, Audit Services
The Auditor’s Independent Police Review published its 2015 annual report today. It provides an overview of the people and processes involved in Portland’s police accountability system, data trends, and selected summaries to illustrate the types of complaints received last year.
Compared to 2014:
- Complaints from community members were up;
- Complaints from Police Bureau employees were down;
- More complaints were investigated fully, but fewer allegations were sustained
- Police shootings were up;
- Investigations were completed more quickly;
- Independent Police Review dismissed fewer complaints at the intake stage;
- Independent Police Review investigated more cases itself and referred more cases to the Police Bureau’s Internal Affairs.
African-Americans, Native Americans and those who identify as another race or ethnicity filed higher proportions of complaints than their presence in Portland’s general population. More men than women filed complaints. These demographic results were consistent with historical patterns.
Find a copy of the report here.