The Auditor’s Office is Portlanders’ independent agency responsible for providing oversight of City government. This Accountability Report, covering the year 2020, shows the breadth, depth and impact of our work.
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Every elected auditor leaves their mark on the office, setting priorities and responding to the events of the day. I assumed office in 2015 with three priorities around which to frame the work of the Auditor’s Office: independence, communication, and equity.
The first few years of my tenure focused on shoring up the independence of the Auditor’s Office and successfully asking voters to add safeguards in City Charter to protect it. We continue to work on lingering areas where our structural independence needs protection, such as Council’s method for setting the Auditor’s budget.
From there, we shifted our attention to communication, looking to provide information and analysis to the public in a manner that is more appealing, accessible, and meaningful. Instead of stodgy government reports filled with jargon, we strive to use plain language, explain complicated data analyses through images and graphics, and present our findings to the public in person and in writing. We also hired the office’s first Communication and Outreach Coordinator to help us build better relationships and connect with historically underserved populations.
The events of this past year, especially the reckoning over racial injustice in America, motivated us to heighten our focus on equity. In meeting this moment, we worked to make equity not just one among many goals, but our north star. We devoted time and resources to staff training; refined an anti-racism analytical framework that guides our audits, investigations, and policy reviews; comprehensively collected demographic data and evaluated our own decision-making processes to ensure equitable treatment; and conducted equity analyses of City programs to identify disparate outcomes.
Although most of our work during 2020 occurred remotely because of the pandemic, this report offers some examples of how we were still able to serve the community, as well as transform my three priorities – independence, communication, and equity – into practice.
- The City adopted initiatives in 2012 to correct race and gender disparities in construction contracting. Our audit of the programs showed some progress, but the programs were hindered by mismanagement and vulnerable to gamesmanship. Our recommendations called for major changes, both in the City’s support for disadvantaged businesses and its compliance with procurement rules. View Audit Services’ full report online about equity in construction contracting.
- Community members brought to our attention issues with enhanced service districts, which are privately funded zones authorized by the City to provide extra services ranging from litter cleanup to security. Our audit found the City did not monitor the districts, and people using public spaces in the districts could be subject to a disparate level of law enforcement. We recommended the City develop guidelines for district formation, governance, and management to ensures public input, transparency and accountability. View Audit Services’ full report online about enhanced services districts.
- The City has invested more than $200 million since 2000 in the eastside neighborhood of Lents to improve the economy, housing, and infrastructure. We audited the Lents Urban Renewal project to see if people were better off after the City’s investments. We found that investment results for residents were mixed: Property values increased, but homeownership rates for people of color dropped. New jobs were created, but residents’ income declined. Despite development of new rental housing, many Lents residents spent more than 30 percent of their income on rent. We recommended the City measure and report on the results of its investments so it can make strategic, mid-course adjustments to achieve community goals. View Audit Services’ full report online about urban renewal in Lents.
- We investigated a complaint that an officer used a weapon-mounted flashlight to inspect and clear an unoccupied tent, posing heightened and unnecessary danger during a police search. In response to our investigation, the Police Bureau provided additional guidance and training on the appropriate use of pistol-mounted flashlights versus conventional flashlights. View Independent Police Review’s full policy review online.
- We hired our first Communication and Outreach Coordinator to improve public awareness of the Auditor’s services and reach historically underserved communities. We want to continue to develop and maintain relationships with organizations and groups to empower them to advocate for accountable City government. Read more about the Auditor’s Communication and Outreach Coordinator.
- It took a group effort led by the Council Clerk to transition to virtual City Council meetings the first week of the pandemic. Within one month, public testimony was restored to Council meetings, followed by meetings throughout the year that facilitated testimony from more than 100 community members. View more information about how to engage with City Council.
- We produced a new online dashboard to track the status of audit recommendations made to City bureaus and agencies. The dashboard allows users to monitor the City’s progress in implementing our recommendations.
- Our Vintage Portland blog following continues to grow. We provide the public access to a vast collection of City photos to encourage discussion and interest in local history. View the Vintage Portland blog.
- Community members often think all police officers on the public transit system work for the City of Portland until they try to file a misconduct complaint with Independent Police Review. Officers from throughout the metro region serve on the transit police force, and Portland Police manage the contract for the transit authority, TriMet. Our review of the transit policing model found that it was not consistently accountable or transparent. Portland Police declined to continue managing the contract, but our recommendations should be implemented by whichever agency assumes that role. View Independent Police Review’s full policy review online.
- A complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office led the Environmental Services Bureau to charge a residential sewer rate rather than the more expensive commercial rate to a couple whose home was in a mixed-zone area. The couple who identified as being on autism spectrum and had limited income, accrued a large unpaid balance. The commercial rate also made them ineligible to participate in the Water Bureau’s low-income discount program. As part of the case’s resolution, the Bureau removed all late fees, retroactively enrolled the couple in the discount program, and offered them an affordable repayment plan for the outstanding balance.
- We track how much money lobbyists and lobbying organizations spend to influence City government. Last year, registered lobbyists invested more than $536,877 on their activities, which was about 31 percent less than in 2019.
Top Groups Lobbying City Officials by Dollar Amount: