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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

Risk Management

Year

Problem

Resolution

2018

A motorist was involved in a collision with an unmarked Portland Police vehicle. She sued the City in small claims court and Risk Management filed a counter-claim. The court found in favor of the City and entered a judgment against the woman for over $5,000. 

The motorist was a single mother who had recently experienced homelessness, unemployment and domestic violence. She was working part-time and receiving food stamps and a housing subsidy. When she was unable to make sufficient payments to the City, the City assigned her account to a private collection agency.

The Ombudsman found that Risk Management lacked legal authority to appear on behalf of the City in small claims court. While disagreeing with parts of the Ombudsman’s assessment, Risk agreed to forfeit its claim and amend Code to secure clear authority to represent the City in small claims court moving forward.

The Ombudsman also found that Risk, like many other City agencies, lacked policies to guide its collection activities to ensure they are equitable and cost-effective. An equitable policy would consider a debtor’s income and assets in determining whether the debt is collectible. Risk agreed to establish clear and fair collections criteria.

2017

In the course of apprehending a violent suspect who had broken in and barricaded himself inside rental property, Portland police caused thousands of dollars of damage to the property. The property owner filed a claim with Risk Management, seeking reimbursement for the damage. Risk Management denied the claim, explaining the City was not liable for the damage.

The Ombudsman argued that the property owner was entitled to have her claim processed as a “fair and moral claim.” The fair and moral claims process is provided in Charter and allows the City to compensate members of the public for City-caused damage or injury in cases where it is not legally liable.

The City convened the fair and moral claims committee, which recommended compensating the property owner for the damage. Council approved the recommendation and awarded the property owner $25,514. 

2015

A Portland resident filed a claim for compensation with the City's Risk Management division. She lived next door to a house that was the subject of a violent police raid that used explosives to gain access. Not only did the blasts blow out her windows, but later she discovered structural damage to her home that she believed the police raid caused. Risk Management paid for the windows right away, but refused to compensate her for the structural damage claim she filed several months later. Risk argued that by cashing the check for the windows, she had signed away her right to any additional compensation.

The Ombudsman urged Risk Management to reconsider based on a Charter provision designed to promote fairness when strict adherence to City rules would lead to an unjust result. More than a year after the police raid, the Risk agreed to pay the costs of the structural damage not covered by the resident’s insurance.