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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Fraud Hotline investigation finds waste, mismanagement in Parks & Recreation

Fraud Hotline logo

Portlanders care deeply about keeping their government accountable. But let’s face it — the City is susceptible to mismanagement, wasteful practices and, at its worst, outright fraud.

One way the Auditor’s Office fights against that behavior is with our Fraud Hotline. The Hotline allows the public, City employees, and contractors to confidentially report fraud, waste, and abuse of position.

Investigators in the Auditor’s Office review every tip and pursue investigations when warranted. In cases where we find evidence of fraud, waste, or abuse of position, we issue a report to City Council and the public.

The Auditor’s Office has had a tip line since 2010, but we revamped its purpose last year to focus on fraud. We posted flyers in City work spaces and featured a link to the online reporting system on my website. The higher profile resulted in several tips, and we published the results of our first completed investigation Feb. 19, 2020. Find the report here. 

The investigation found that Portland Parks & Recreation mismanaged the work of a retired municipal golf courses director who it rehired for additional work. We found the retired director worked nearly double the hours allowed by a written agreement that governed his “working retirement.” The additional work caused extra payments totaling more than $25,000.

We also found there wasn’t a justification to rehire the director as a working retiree, that planned work either wasn’t completed or was done poorly, and that the retiree had no supervision.

There were also a host of rules violations. No one approved the retired director’s timesheets. Human resources rules were broken by placing the retiree and new director into the same position without a justification. The retiree worked offsite without approval, and likely broke City technology use rules by using his City email account to send more than 100 emails to Craigslist vendors for what appeared to be personal business.

My office made six recommendations to Portland Parks & Recreation to prevent this waste from happening again. The Bureau did not agree to undertake all of them.

We are grateful to tipsters who use the Fraud Hotline to notify us of possible wrongdoing. If you know of fraud, waste, or abuse of position in the City of Portland or with its contractors, make sure we do too, because the best way to call it out is to call it in. Visit www.PortlandFraudHotline.com or call 866-342-4148 to make a confidential tip.

City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

How has urban renewal changed Lents?

Riding down Foster Road through the Lents neighborhood last month, I went past small businesses in old buildings, food carts, and newly built mid-rises with affordable apartments, but also abandoned lots and homes overdue for a fresh coat of paint.

The City has invested $207 million in urban renewal money since 2000 in Lents to improve the economy, housing, and infrastructure. These investments were managed by Prosper Portland and the Housing Bureau.

We spoke with Lents neighbors and stakeholders and went to community events to learn more about what people think and what they want from the City’s urban renewal investments. Many people asked for more data and more information on the urban renewal investments – how many jobs were created, how many housing units built, how’s affordability now, where did the money go?

While our audit found that the Housing Bureau had regularly reported on new housing unit construction and affordability, Prosper Portland’s reporting fell short. The economic development agency talked about key projects and created plans, but we did not see an assessment of how these investments have changed the Lents economy.

Our audit tries to bridge this information gap. We compiled spending data and indicators for the economy, housing market, and land use in Lents. We lined these up with the City’s ambitious goals and compared Lents to Montavilla/Mount Tabor – an area that did not receive urban renewal investments. This comparison lets us distinguish what may have been specific to Lents urban renewal from broader trends in the big economy.

Property values shot up in Lents, but not as much as in the comparison area.

Housing affordability is still a problem in Lents. Three out of five renters in Lents were burdened by housing costs – measured as spending more than 30 percent of income on housing.

There are more jobs in Lents now and job growth outpaced the comparison area.

Finally, urban renewal money also helped redevelop the Lents Town Center, the Portland Mercado, and 72Foster.

You can view the data and findings in our audit report. If you would like us to present the audit report to your community group or if you have more questions/ideas for Lents, please get in touch! Printed copies of our report are available by request and at our City Hall office.

-- Minh Dan Vuong, Performance Auditor II

City should deliver on accountability promises to voters

Have you ever wondered if promises made to voters are delivered when a program funded by them is up and running? It's an important question, and we have some answers.

City Council in recent years asked voters to approve taxes and bonds to pay expenses related to arts education, cannabis regulation, affordable housing, and street repair. Each time the City asked voters to approve more revenue, it promised certain steps would be taken to ensure the funds were spent as intended.

Over the course of four audits of voter-approved spending, we noticed a trend that the City was not meeting its accountability promises, even when the use of the funding generally met expectations. Some examples:

• Clear language: The City committed to use revenue from a cannabis tax to fund drug and alcohol treatment, public safety, and small business support. Nearly 80 percent of the revenue went to public safety, and in one year, drug and alcohol treatment received no funds.

• Oversight committees: The City promised voters that a committee would be convened to monitor gas-tax spending, but did not give the group current, consistent, and accurate information from which to provide meaningful oversight.

• Annual reports: The City promised annual public reports, which implies the release of a report each year. There was no report for cannabis, and those for the housing bond and gas tax were late.

• Annual audits: Despite its promises, the City only delivered a review of the housing bond.

• Administrative caps: After voters approved the arts tax, the City declared the promised cap on administrative expenses was unrealistic, and City Council repealed it.    

The latest audit recommends that before measures are referred to the ballot, City Council should ensure that accountability promises are specific, feasible, measurable, and achievable. It should also specify a position or body responsible for making sure they are implemented.

Find the full report here and a one-page summary here.

--Performance Auditor III Jenny Scott

View the four recent audits referred to in the report:

Arts Tax: Promises to voters only partly fulfilled (July 2015)

Recreational Cannabis Tax: Greater transparency and accountability needed (May 2019)

Fixing Our Streets: Some accountability commitments not fulled (May 2019)

Portland Housing Bond: Early implementation results mostly encouraging (June 2019)

Do you have something to say about our audits?

Graphic of people talkingAuditors are known for being bookish, and we love reading and writing reports. But we also love the chance to talk in person to Portlanders about the topics we all care passionately about. We’ve been having a lot of fun getting out into the community to share the results of our most recent police overtime audit. On November 19, 2019, we discussed the audit with the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing.

We reported that police overtime was high by historical standards: nearly 250,000 extra hours at a cost of $15.7 million. But the costs of overtime were not just financial. Long hours lead to more accidents, more injuries, and burnout. Secondary employment, which is off-duty police work arranged through contracts, also taxed a system that relied on overtime to meet minimum staffing needs. The program had a low profile and inconsistent procedures despite significant risks. We recommended that the Bureau improve overtime data collection and reporting. We also recommended that the Bureau change the contract approval process for off-duty work and report publicly about customers, hours worked, and finances.

In person, we had a chance to answer questions and also to listen to concerns from the committee and other members of the general public. We talked more about the context behind some of our wonky recommendations to improve data collection and reporting. We also heard which findings really resonated with the public and the things they most wanted the Police Bureau to improve. One member commented that it was incredible that sergeants didn’t have access to reports about how much overtime officers were working. Another member noted that one of the committee’s priorities was accountability and that overtime was an area that needed more accountability.

View the presentation and discussion at the meeting of the Portland Committee on Community-Engaged Policing at this link.

Read the Police Overtime audit.

Invite us to discuss our audits in person. We’ll present the Police Overtime audit at the Bureau's Training Advisory Council meeting on January 8, 2020. For more information about this event, see this link.

--Elizabeth Pape, Performance Auditor II

We're hiring an Investigations Coordinator! Apply by Oct. 25

Apply online by Friday, Oct. 25: 

The City Auditor's Office is seeking a quick-thinking, detailed-oriented public servant with good judgment to coordinate investigations of police misconduct allegations and make case-handling decisions in the Independent Police Review division.

Independent Police Review (IPR) is the civilian side of the City's police accountability system. IPR reports to the elected City Auditor, who is independent of the Mayor and City Commissioners. This structure is critical to ensure that police misconduct complaints receive the appropriate investigative resources before the Chief and Police Commissioner make their final decisions about an officer's conduct or cases are closed for insufficient evidence. With 16 staff positions, it is the largest division in the Auditor's Office.

IPR is the central intake location for police misconduct complaints, conducts investigations, and monitors all cases investigated by the Police Bureau's Internal Affairs unit. IPR and Internal Affairs share investigative responsibilities. IPR generally investigates misconduct complaints involving high-ranking officers; vulnerable populations, such as children or people experiencing homelessness; and large events, such as street protests. IPR uses complaint trends as the basis for policy reviews of the Police Bureau and makes recommendations for systemic change.

Responsibilities of the Investigations Coordinator include:

  • Supervising a lead investigator and seven staff investigators;
  • Ensuring consistency in investigations;
  • Participating in investigative planning by ensuring timely progression of cases through the process;
  • Reviewing information gathered during the intake phase to make case-handling decisions, such as referrals for further investigation or closure;
  • Reviewing investigative files for completeness and findings for accuracy and appropriateness;
  • Conferring with the IPR Director and Deputy Director about high-risk or sensitive cases; and
  • Monitoring investigations conducted by Internal Affairs, including officer-involved shootings.