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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Clarification for Council's questions about Citizen Review Committee

City Council considered an agenda item this week to appoint and reappoint members to the Citizen Review Committee, which is an 11-member advisory body on police accountability matters. Some Council members raised questions that were beyond the scope of the item and included misinformation. Find the audio of the April 1, 2020, Council meeting here. Item No. 247 begins at 7:14. I wrote the following to correct the record and provide context.

From: Hull Caballero, Mary
Sent: Wednesday, April 1, 2020 4:22 PM
To: Wheeler, Ted <Ted.Wheeler@portlandoregon.gov>; Commissioner Eudaly <chloe@portlandoregon.gov>; Fritz, Amanda <Amanda.Fritz@portlandoregon.gov>; Commissioner Hardesty <joann@portlandoregon.gov>
Cc: Crail, Tim <Tim.Crail@portlandoregon.gov>; Dennis, Kristin <Kristin.Dennis@portlandoregon.gov>; Edwards, Karly <Karly.Edwards@portlandoregon.gov>; Fox, Jamal <Jamal.Fox@portlandoregon.gov>; Greene, Nike <Nike.Greene@portlandoregon.gov>; Lamb, Amanda <Amanda.Lamb@portlandoregon.gov>; Runkel, Marshall <Marshall.Runkel@portlandoregon.gov>; Schmanski, Sonia <Sonia.Schmanski@portlandoregon.gov>; Caldwell, Ross <Ross.Caldwell@portlandoregon.gov>; Walton-Macaulay, Dana <Dana.Walton-Macaulay@portlandoregon.gov>; Konev, Irene <Irene.Konev@portlandoregon.gov>; Reeve, Tracy <Tracy.Reeve@portlandoregon.gov>
Subject: Follow up to your questions about the Citizen Review Committee

Mayor and Commissioners,

I am following up on some questions that came up at the Council meeting this morning related to the Citizen Review Committee. I appreciate Dana Walton-Macaulay doing her dead-level best to respond to the matters raised, but her length of service with the City is short and some of the issues were outside of the scope of the agenda item to which she was prepared to speak.

Commissioner Hardesty’s question about Committee-member viability and frustration:

The Citizen Review Committee is an advisory body. It has two primary responsibilities: to make recommendations to improve Police Bureau policy and operations and hear appeals when a party disagrees with a Commander’s findings on a misconduct investigation. The Committee’s job in an appeal is to decide if the Commander’s findings were reasonable based on the evidence and recommend a different decision be made when the Committee thinks the Commander erred.

Every entity in the City’s police accountability system makes recommendations to the Chief and Police Commissioner, who solely are authorized to decide if misconduct occurred and whether discipline will be imposed. They can and do disagree with recommendations from Commanders, the Police Review Board, Citizen Review Committee, Internal Affairs, and IPR.

Changing the Committee’s appellate standard of review to a preponderance of the evidence standard will not meet the force of the Committee members’ frustration. Although they express it in different ways, they are frustrated that those empowered to make final decisions sometimes don’t do what the Committee tells them to do. I think we can all relate to sinking time into an advisory role and then feeling disappointed when the decision-makers go in a different direction than we’d like. It is not unusual for volunteers to resign from boards for a variety of reasons, frustration with decision-makers being one of them as we’ve seen with the Public Utility Board, the Portland Committee on Community-engaged Policing, and the Community Advisory Board in the Justice Department settlement agreement.    

 If you are serious about easing the Committee’s frustration, then you should be willing to make them decision-makers instead of recommenders. To do that, you must:

  1. Change the Code to give them that authority;
  2. Get approval from the Department of Justice for the change;
  3. Negotiate the change with the police unions; and,
  4. Provide budget for additional staff support and possibly salaries for Committee  members, given the intensive training and time commitment they’d need to take on this role.

It’s my understanding each of you have been asked to do this by Committee members in some form or another, but I’m unaware of any sustained interest on your part in doing so. If I am wrong about that, I would recommend scheduling a Council Work Session to hear from all parts of the accountability system and the public before you change it. As with any system, changing one part affects the others, so you should fully understand the repercussions of policy options before you enact one.

In the meantime, we will continue working on structural and technical barriers to ease access to information for IPR and the Citizen Review Committee, because we are obligated to carry out the Code as it currently exists. I would also invite your help on some issues that reside in State law that constrain our ability to be more transparent about misconduct cases, which is among my priorities to improve the system.

Commissioner Hardesty’s question about OIR Group recommendations:

OIR Group reviews officer-involved shootings and in-custody death cases. They have not made recommendations about the Citizen Review Committee.

Commissioner Fritz’s question about legal advisors at Committee meetings:

The City Attorney’s Office advises the Citizen Review Committee. Questions related to specific appeals must be submitted to the City Attorney’s Office before the hearing to give it time to research and respond. There was a time when Deputy City Attorneys rotated into meetings, but they only advised on procedural and open meetings questions, not on specific matters related to an appeal. You will recognize the process as the same used for City Council meetings in which the City’s attorneys decline to provide legal advice in a public meeting. Most volunteer committees in the City do not have in-meeting legal advisors. Tracy Reeve discussed with me her reasoning to stop sending an attorney to Citizen Review Committee meetings, and I agreed with her decision given the workload in her office.

The Auditor’s General Counsel advises the accountability functions in the Auditor’s Office, including Independent Police Review. The General Counsel does not advise entities outside of the Auditor’s Office and defers to the City Attorney’s Office on matters of Citywide concern, such as open meetings and employment law.

While IPR Director Ross Caldwell and Deputy Director Dana Walton-Macaulay are attorneys, they do not provide legal advice to the Committee. They attend meetings to provide information to the Committee and receive input from it. Other IPR staff attend to provide administrative support. The Captain of Internal Affairs or his designee also attend the Committee’s monthly meetings to receive input on his operations.

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