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The City of Portland, Oregon

Office of the Ombudsman

A division of the Portland City Auditor's Office

phone: 503-823-0144

email: ombudsman@portlandoregon.gov

1221 SW 4th Avenue, Room 310, Portland, OR 97204

Ethical Government

Year Bureau

Problem

Resolution

2018

Fire & Rescue

Fire conducted a drill on a resident’s private property. The drill alarmed the resident, who had not given permission or received advance notice.

The Ombudsman communicated to Fire that it needed to ask permission before conducting drills on private property. Fire agreed. 

2018

Fire & Rescue

A Fire arson investigator was reported to have pulled over drivers on multiple occasions, both for arson-related investigations and also for traffic stops unrelated to any investigation. 

The Ombudsman raised safety concerns and questioned the legality of armed members of Fire acting like police officers, particularly outside the context of arson investigations. Fire established and later refined a policy prohibiting fire investigators from initiating a traffic stop except under extraordinary circumstances.

2017

Parks & Recreation

A community member complained about a Parks & Recreation community center allowing a church group to rent space. The community member believed that allowing the church to use the community center as its place of worship instead of the church buying or renting space on the private market amounted to an improper public subsidy of religion. The community member noted that the church used the community center’s address as its permanent physical location and used pictures of the community center on its website.

The Ombudsman’s investigation included a broader survey of Portland Parks & Recreation’s rental policies, rate schedules and advertising. The Ombudsman found that Portland Parks & Recreation’s practices differed by community center. Some practices raised potential Constitutional problems by subsidizing religious organizations and suggesting a preference for the activities of certain religions.

Portland Parks & Recreation accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendation to develop a standard rental policy that encourages equal inclusive access to community centers, that is applied consistently to all users and is adhered to by every community center.

2017

Management & Finance

A community member complained that a contracted security official assigned to a City building was wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” patch on his cap during a protest of a Portland Police shooting.

The Ombudsman brought the allegation to the attention of a Facilities Services manager, who oversees the security contract. The manager investigated and confirmed the allegation. The manager and the security official agreed that wearing the patch at work was not appropriate.

2015

Housing

A homeowner involved in a Portland Housing Bureau home rehabilitation program contacted the Ombudsman to complain about an interaction she had with a Bureau manager. The homeowner alleged that the manager insisted on meeting at her home against her will. The homeowner recorded the meeting.

The Ombudsman investigated and found that the Bureau manager’s actions and treatment of the homeowner were inappropriate. The Ombudsman found that a City staff person forcing someone to meet at the community member’s private home to be inherently intimidating. The Ombudsman also found the manager’s approach and decisions pertaining to the homeowner to be heavy-handed and arbitrary.

Among other things, the Ombudsman recommended the Bureau manager provide a written apology to the homeowner. The Bureau manager initially agreed with the recommendation, and the Ombudsman worked with the Bureau manager to craft a meaningful apology. The Bureau manager then decided against apologizing based on advice from the City Attorney’s Office. Eventually the Bureau manager issued a minimal apology, which satisfied the homeowner.  

2015

Planning & Sustainability

The Bureau of Planning and Sustainability did not ensure compliance with state conflict of interest law when it convened a series of stakeholder advisory committees to make land use and urban planning recommendations. State law required that committee members timely and publicly disclose if they could financially benefit from their recommendations.

At the Ombudsman's suggestion, the bureau took corrective action, asking that committee members disclose potential conflicts of interest prior to City Council’s final vote. Going forward, the City Attorney's Office is offering a standard training for all advisory committees that will apprise members of their obligations as public officials under state ethics laws.

2013

Planning & Sustainability

The Ombudsman followed up on media-reported concerns about a page on the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability’s website that purportedly endorsed certain commercial entities.

The Ombudsman investigated and determined that the bureau’s website conveyed the appearance of endorsing commercial entities in violation of Human Resources Administrative Rule 4.08. Exceptions to the Rule may be granted by the elected official in charge if such endorsement is central to the bureau’s mission. The Mayor subsequently granted the bureau an exception.

2012

N/A

A City employee questioned whether the City’s hosting of Red Cross blood donation drives violates the City’s nondiscrimination policies because of the Red Cross policy prohibiting sexually active gay and bisexual men from donating blood (the “MSM Policy”).

The Ombudsman conducted extensive research and determined that the Red Cross blood donation eligibility criteria at issue is actually federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy. Since 2006, the Red Cross has publicly supported changing the MSM Policy, calling the current policy scientifically and medically unwarranted.

In 2010, an FDA subcommittee acknowledged that the MSM Policy is “suboptimal,” and efforts are underway to develop an alternative policy. In the meantime, several major cities have passed resolutions calling upon the FDA to revise the MSM Policy.

The Ombudsman advocated that the City pass a similar resolution and testified in support of City Resolution 37029, calling on the FDA to reverse its longstanding prohibition on gay men donating blood. The resolution passed with unanimous Council support.

2012

N/A

Several City employees sought ethical guidance regarding unsolicited gifts.

In conjunction with the City Attorney’s Office, the Ombudsman provided information about the requirements of City and State Ethics Law and advised the City employees about any relevant acceptance restrictions and disclosure obligations.

2012

Fire & Rescue

In response to a campaign advertisement during the 2012 primary season, the Ombudsman initiated an investigation into whether certain Portland Fire & Rescue employees violated any restrictions pertaining to public employee political activity. Two residents reported similar concerns to the Auditor’s Office during the general election season.

In the course of conducting the investigation, the Ombudsman observed a lack of clarity and consistency among the various political activity restrictions that may apply to City employees. Based on the Ombudsman’s recommendations, the Bureau of Human Resources amended Administrative Rule 4.06 to track the more stringent Federal Hatch Act political activity restrictions and to prohibit non-elected City employees from using their official authority or influence while engaged in political activity.

The Ombudsman also works with the Auditor’s Elections Officer and the City Attorney’s Office to distribute a City-wide memorandum in advance each general election, which reminds employees of political activity restrictions and reporting obligations for suspected violations.

2012

Management & Finance

A City employee anonymously reported concerns that a no-bid contract with a former City employee was the result of a quid pro quo arrangement with a current Office of Management and Finance administrator.

The Ombudsman conducted an investigation. Although the Ombudsman did not find evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement, the investigation raised several general concerns, including the prudence of sole-sourcing to former City employees, the adequacy of the dollar threshold for public notice and opportunity for protest, and the sufficiency of the public contracting oversight structure. The Ombudsman brought the concerns to the Mayor’s attention.

2012

Water

A City employee anonymously reported concerns about a Portland Water Bureau employee’s outside business subcontracting with the City on a Water Bureau project.

The Ombudsman initiated an investigation; however, the employee under investigation resigned before the investigation was completed.

As a proactive measure, the Ombudsman worked with Procurement Services and the City Attorney’s Office to amend City Code 5.33.070 to expressly prohibit the City from subcontracting with a City employee, or any business with which a City employee is associated.