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Portland Measure 26-189 - Auditor

MEASURE 26-189, AMEND CITY CHARTER TO INCREASE AUDITOR’S INDEPENDENCE OFFICIAL TITLE: Amends Charter: Increases Auditor’s independence from audited agencies, adds dutiesQUESTION: Shall Charter be amended to increase City Auditor’s independence from audited agencies and include Auditor’s authority to investigate City agencies?FINANCIAL IMPACT: There is no direct impact to taxes from this measure. Because it permits the Auditor to contract for services outside of City agencies and requires an outside audit of the Auditor’s office at least every four years, expenses for the Auditor’s office might increase.PROBABLE RESULTS OF A “YES” VOTE: The Charter of the City of Portland would be amended to explicitly state that the Auditor is administratively independent of the Mayor, City Council and all other City agencies, although the Auditor’s budget will remain under City Council control. The Charter would also specifically establish the Office of the Ombudsman within the Office of the Auditor, reflecting current practice.PROBABLE RESULTS OF A “NO” VOTE: The Charter of the City of Portland will remain as it is.BACKGROUND: The Office of the Auditor is the City’s watchdog agency for public spending and government performance. To be a candidate for Auditor, a person must be a certified Public Accountant, a Certified Internal Auditor or a Certified Management Accountant. The Auditor makes the final determination about the legitimacy and acceptability of claims for payment made against the City. The Auditor can require at any time that any or all demands for payment from the City treasury be submitted to the Auditor for determination of whether the demand should be paid and, if so, from what fund the payment should come. Thus, the Auditor ensures that tax money is paid only when and where it is authorized. The Auditor also conducts performance audits of City agencies and City contractors to ensure that work is done to City standards. Currently, the Auditor’s office depends on other City agencies for legal, personnel, procurement, and budget services, although these are among the agencies that the Auditor is charged with investigating. This creates a potential conflict of interest. In 2001, the City established the office of City Ombudsman within the office of the Auditor, to receive public complaints against City agencies and to investigate them. The Ombudsman is not currently mentioned in the City Charter. SUMMARY OF MEASURE: The measure makes the Auditor’s office administratively independent of City government and City agencies. It gives the Auditor permission to use outside legal counsel, instead of the City’s counsel. It allows the Auditor to make staffing decisions, although those decisions must be consistent with City human resource policies and rules. It establishes the Auditor’s office as a contracting agency, able to procure its own goods and services. It authorizes the Auditor’s office to prepare its own budget for submission to Council for approval. The measure explicitly establishes the Office of the Ombudsman in the City Charter as part of the Office of the Auditor. The measure requires the Auditor to contract with an independent company to perform an audit of the Auditor’s office at least once every four years.
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  • No - Against the Measure

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Pros & Cons

SUPPPORTERS SAY:   An independent Auditor sends a clear message that the City is committed to accountable and transparent government; it protects the integrity of the Ombudsman and ensures that the office can be trusted as an independent institution, beholden only to the cause of good governance.

            To be an independent watchdog, Portland’s City Auditor should be, like the Secretary of State, independent of agencies the Auditor may be required to audit.  If auditors are not independent in areas such as budget, they may encounter pressure from management to avoid certain topics or change information in a report critical of a program.

Pros & Cons

OPPPONENTS SAY:    This is a more expensive way to run the Auditor’s office.  The Auditor’s purchases may not have the advantage of buying in bulk; outside legal counsel may cost more than the City’s legal staff; the Auditor’s office would duplicate functions of the Personnel and Budgeting offices.

            With so much independence of other agencies, the Auditor should be investigated more often than every four years.

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