Auditor's 2021 Accountability Report

Report
illustration of Portland skyline and text reads "Portland: Accountability Report 2021"
The Auditor’s Office conducts independent assessments of Portland government, impartial investigations of community members’ complaints, and provides a variety of services that make the City more accessible. This report highlights the breadth and depth our work in 2021.
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Auditor's Note 

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The year 2021 may best be described as one of endurance and reflection. Shock over Covid-19's jarring disruption in 2020 gave way to coping with the reality and isolation of continued remote work and other challenges while waiting for a turn in the vaccine queue. Then plans to return to City Hall faltered as the Delta variant gave way to Omicron. All the while, we kept our sights on finding ways for City government to improve and how best to hold ourselves accountable.

Independence from those we audit and investigate is the bedrock of our credibility and enables the Auditor’s Office to conduct impartial assessments and report results to the public. The tools Portlanders provide to their Auditor to review the City’s programs and operations and investigate community members’ complaints are valuable civic assets. We used them in an audit during which we learned the City was ill-equipped to help Portlanders with disabilities in an emergency. We used them again when an analysis by the Ombudsman showed the City’s reliance on maintenance complaints to trigger residential property inspections resulted in disproportionate adverse effects on racially diverse and gentrifying neighborhoods. Community groups and leaders embraced our recommendations and joined our call for better, more equitable government.  

How we go about our work counts, too. In a year of uncommon reflection and adjustment, we refined the broad equity priority I originally set for the office in 2015 to better serve Black and Indigenous Portlanders, given their long histories at the margins of government representation and service provision. Learning and re-learning those histories as part of all-staff trainings, brown-bag discussions, and an office book club clarified our mission and fueled our commitment to anti-racism as an actionable goal in our strategic plan, which will be finalized in the spring.

I am pleased to share in this report more examples of the Auditor’s Office in action and highlight additional accomplishments achieved in 2021.

Signature of City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

February 2022


Equity & Anti-Racism

Equity & Anti-Racism. Some Portlanders bear more government burden and receive fewer benefits. We work to dismantle persistent disparities and advance equitable outcomes through an anti-racist framework.
  • Welcoming and encouraging budding public servants to our office enables us to introduce them to government careers in transparency and accountability work. One way we expanded the welcome mat was to pilot a Pathway to Public Service Fellowship. The goal of the one-year program is to attract and retain a diverse and talented pool of future public servants from historically under-represented communities. Read more about inaugural Fellow Corey White,
  • In the context of the City’s pandemic response, auditors examined whether Portlanders living with disabilities could expect their needs to be met during an emergency, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The audit found that the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management does not have the information, expertise, or capacity needed to anticipate and plan for the emergency needs of people with disabilities. We recommended City Council and the Office of Equity & Human Rights develop a plan to achieve compliance with the Americans with Disability Act. View Audit Services’ full report online about emergency management. 
  • Prosper Portland’s Small Business Relief Fund provided a lifeline during the early days of the pandemic, and out audit pointed out ways it could be better in the future. There were two rounds of funding. The first round took place in the spring, immediately after the emergency declaration. It resulted in $1.3 million in grants provided to 281 small businesses. The second round took place in the fall and resulted in $11.1 million in grants provided to 928 applicants. Prosper received 12,977 applications during both rounds and awarded 1,209 grants. The grantees were diverse, with 89 percent of awards going to people of color. Fifty-eight percent went to women. Our audit found that Prosper had problems with the grant-selection process, documentation, monitoring, and reporting. Establishing minimum standards in these areas before the next emergency would allow Prosper to get funds out quickly, protect the integrity of the grant program, and account for results. We made recommendations for building a stronger program the next time disaster strikes. View Audit Services’ full report on Prosper Portland Emergency Grants.
  • Equity and anti-racism work are the responsibility of every Auditor’s Office employee and is measured as an annual performance expectation of the Auditor. These goals are designed to benefit Black, Indigenous, or other people of color, immigrants, refugees, and people with disabilities. Employees are working through outreach and equity implementation teams and the strategic planning process to prioritize services to traditionally underserved communities, especially Black and Indigenous Portlanders. Last year, divisions within the Auditor’s Office refined their division equity plans to bring them into alignment with the Results Based-Accountability Anti-Racism framework. This is ongoing work and is the core of a new Strategic Plan, which will help ensure the longevity the Office’s anti-racism efforts.
  • The Bureau of Development Services relies on complaints from neighbors to investigate property maintenance violations. Community members, advisory groups, and City inspectors have all raised concerns about the fairness of a system that can result in heavy fines and burdensome liens on some of Portland’s most economically vulnerable property owners. Analysis of the Bureau of Development Services’ data confirms that complaint-based enforcement disproportionately affects communities of color and neighborhoods vulnerable to gentrification. The system also perpetuates historical racist policies and undermines the City’s equity goals. We recommended that the Commissioner-in-Charge immediately engage with burdened communities to seek their recommendations on changes to the property maintenance code and identify an equitable enforcement mechanism and appropriate funding source that does not rely on fines and liens. View the Ombudsman’s full report on property maintenance enforcement.

Communication

Communication-We produce information and provide services that historically disadvantaged communities can use to empower themselves and demand accountable government.
  • We are one of the few Auditor’s Offices in the nation to translate our materials in four languages so non-English speakers have access to information about how City government is performing. We translated 23 reports last year from English into Spanish, Vietnamese, Simplified Chinese, and Russian, for a total of 92 translations. We also translate social media posts and information about our services. The Council Clerk is providing more resources and access to non-English speakers to encourage their participation at City Council meetings.
  • Communication between community members and police officers is crucial to public safety. Interactions can be more stressful and possibly dangerous for non-English speakers if officers do not understand them. We initiated a policy review of the Police Bureau’s capacity to serve non-English speakers after Independent Police Review received complaints about language barriers and officers inconsistent use of language services. The review showed the Bureau does not provide officers with enough guidance on when to engage language resources and which resources are most helpful for communicating in different types of police interactions. Public safety agencies are obligated to provide meaningful language services and ensure community members can communicate effectively and be understood. We recommended the Bureau revise its directive related to language access services and include guidance on which language resources to use in particular situations. View Independent Police Review’s full report online on Portland Police’s need to ensure language services are equitable and consistent.

Transparency

Transparency-We promote transparency of City operations, Council decision-making, and access to government to foster public trust.
  • Few things are more fundamental to the well-being of Portland than for its residents to participate in decisions that affect them. It’s a priority for our office that the public is informed about upcoming City Council decisions and can be heard before Council members vote. We took a big step in 2021 by moving the agenda-setting and reporting process from paper to fully digital. The Council Clerk, in partnership with the Bureau of Technology Services, redesigned the website to make it easier for Portlanders to know how to nab one of five slots available to speak on any topic at a Council meeting or sign up to provide testimony on a particular item. The redesigned website provides information about confirmed agenda items, Council absences, and the voting record of Council members. The schedule for Council meetings, work sessions, executive sessions and other notable meetings is added to citywide calendars, including Council members’ webpages, so Portlanders know when and how to jump into the discussion. Visit the Council Clerk homepage for more information
  • Lobbyists who try to influence Portland government are required to register with the Auditor’s Office and report quarterly about their interactions with City officials. Lobbyists spent more last year than any prior year since the regulations went into effect in 2006. They spent 181 percent more in 2021 than 2020. The big spender was People for Portland, an interest group focused on livability and housing issues. Visit the lobbying homepage for more information.

Top Entities Lobbying City Officials by Dollar Amount:

    • People for Portland: $1,154,449
    • Verizon: $60,000
    • Oregon Museum of Science and Industry: $45,000
    • American Beverage Association: $39,000
    • Oregon Smart Growth: $37,002

Contact

Leslie Chaires

Communications and Outreach Coordinator