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Published in the City Club of Portland Bulletin, Vol. 99, No. 4, April 11, 2017

Portland’s auditor performs an essential oversight role by auditing city offices and bureaus. On the May 16 ballot, Portland voters will decide whether to give the Office of the Auditor greater independence from the city bureaus that it investigates. If adopted, Measure 26-189 would (1) codify the Office of the Ombudsman (one of the offices under the auditor’s control) in the City Charter; (2) give the auditor control over human resources and procurement matters affecting the auditor’s office; (3) allow the auditor greater access to independent legal counsel; and (4) allow the auditor’s office to submit its annual proposed budget directly to the City Council.


Your committee unanimously concludes that Portland voters should adopt Measure 26-189. We considered several reasons why voters might support or oppose the measure in our analysis.

Proponents contend that the oversight functions performed by the auditor’s office require that it be free from apparent and actual conflicts of interest. They note that the auditor’s budget currently is subject to review by the City Budget Office; that the auditor must seek permission from the city attorney before retaining independent legal counsel; and that the Office of Management & Finance controls human resources and procurement decisions affecting the auditor’s office. Yet, all of those offices are subject to audits by the auditor’s office, giving rise to potential conflicts of interest. Proponents also argue that the ombudsman’s office should be codified in the charter because it too performs an essential oversight role by investigating citizen complaints against city bureaus.

Although your committee was unable to identify any opponents of Measure 26-189, some of the individuals we interviewed nonetheless expressed reservations. Those reservations generally related to the incremental nature of the reforms. For example, council still would be able to request a City Budget Office analysis of the auditor’s proposed budget, which could enable one of the conflicts of interest that the measure seeks to resolve. Budgetary constraints might prevent the auditor from being able to retain outside counsel. Additionally, Measure 26-189’s requirement of periodic external reviews of the auditor’s office might be an inadequate check against the auditor’s new powers.

After careful consideration, your committee concludes that Measure 26-189 strikes an appropriate balance between values of independence and accountability. Even if the measure does not guarantee actual independence for the auditor in all circumstances, it nonetheless would increase the perception that the auditor is independent from other city bureaus, enhancing the credibility of the auditor’s office by mitigating potential conflicts of interest that would compromise its credibility. We also view the proposal’s incrementalism as a virtue. By retaining some of the existing budgetary and structural restraints on the auditor’s office, Measure 26-189 ensures adequate checks on the auditor’s authority.

Recommendation: Your committee unanimously recommends a “Yes” vote.

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