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The City of Portland, Oregon

Nick Fish (In Memoriam)

City of Portland Commissioner

phone: 503-823-3589


1221 S.W. 4th, Room 240, Portland, OR 97204

Outside council report on BES Columbia Building

February 19, 2015

In response to the Auditor’s report about the new Bureau of Environmental Services employee building at the Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant, I committed to bring in an outside law firm to review the findings, conduct an investigation, and issue a written report on lessons learned and “best practices.” Attached is a copy of the report.

In its report, Barran Liebman LLP found no evidence that laws, rules, or ethical guidelines were violated. However, the report raises a number of red flags about bureau practices and decisions.

Barran Liebman’s report includes eleven thoughtful recommendations for improving how the bureau completes capital projects. We are reviewing them carefully, and expect to implement many of them.

Prior to the issuance of this report, I already initiated a number of reforms that address many of the findings. They are designed to strengthen accountability and transparency. For example:

  • Projects with investments totaling more than $500,000 now come to Council on the Regular agenda (not Consent agenda) to ensure robust public discussion. 
  • The Citizens Utility Board has been brought in to conduct regular, independent reviews of bureau capital projects.
  • This fall, based on the recommendations of the Utility Oversight Blue Ribbon Commission, we will launch a new Public Utility Board, with independent professional staff to scrutinize the capital projects and budgets of both BES and the Portland Water Bureau.

Next week, I am launching a national search for a new Director. I am confident that with new leadership, a renewed commitment to transparency and accountability, and with the full support of our dedicated employees and the Council, BES will continue to deliver high-quality services to Portlanders.

Please let me or my staff know if you have any questions about this report.

Barran Liebman LLP Report

Portland investigation says Columbia Building payment process 'appears improper'

Brad Schmidt in The Oregonian

Sewer Office Building Investigation Says City Bureaus Should Report When Projects Get Bigger

Aaron Mesh in the Willamette Week