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Critic calls for Bureau of Environmental Services Director Dean Marriott to be fired



Photo Credit: KOIN 6 NEWS - Bureau of Environmental Services Director Dean Marriott was placed on paid administrative leave after an audit was released criticizing cost increases at a new building.Dean Marriott, director of Portland's Bureau of Environmental Services, was placed on leave this week after a city audit pointed to large cost overruns for the new employee building at the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant.

City Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of the bureau, told KOIN News 6 that he was unhappy after reading the audit's findings about the cost increases.

“The fact it was three times over budget bothers me as commissioner in charge, that bothers me as a resident, that bothers me as a ratepayer,” Fish told KOIN News 6.

Fish has also asked a local law firm to conduct an independent investigation of the project spending. And he has named bureau veteran Jim Hagerman as its acting bureau director.

City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade released the audit Wednesday morning and will brief the City Council on it Tuesday morning.

According to the audit, the building's cost increased from an original estimate of $3.2 million to $11.5 million by the time the building was completed last year. The increase became an issue in the campaign on a ballot measure to transfer control of BES and the Portland Water Bureau from the City Council to an independently elected board. Mayor Charlie Hales and Commissioner Nick Fish, who is in charge of BES, asked Griffin-Valade to do an audit of the cost increases before the measure was defeated at the May primary election.

Photo Credit: KOIN 6 NEWS - The Portland Bureau of Environmental Service's Columbia Boulevard Wastewater Treatment Plant.Longtime utility critic Kent Craford, who helped leaded the unsuccessful ballot measure campaign, called on Fish to fire Marriott.

"If ever there were an example of why ratepayers and taxpayers shouldn't trust City Hall with another dime, it's this extravagant building, just one of many. Dean Marriott needs to be fired, not given a paid vacation. And Portlanders need to rise up and refer the street tax to the ballot," says Craford.

The audit points out that the building was necessary to replace temporary trailers that had begun to deteriorate. But the audit also cites several design and use decisions made by BES that increased the cost of the project after it had been approved by the council. For example, the audit points out that BES decided the building should be able to function as an emergency operations center after the council approved the project, requiring an additional $500,000 to be able to survive a severe earthquake. Expanding the work site also increased the cost by $1.5 million.

The audit also found that a philosophy of striving to be a model of sustainability at the city turned the project into "an educational 'showcase' of values," which resulted in a more elaborate, architecturally unique and complex project than approved by the council. And, according to the audit, weaknesses in oversight during the design stage resulted in additional costs.

And, although BES discussed the changes with the council on numerous occasions, according to the audit agency officials did not provide enough information about them for the council to understand their significance.

"Essentially, what could have been a relatively straightforward and simple building beam more complex and elaborate, as design choices and scope additions expanded the project area as well as the building's complexity. During the design process, caps in project oversight also contributed to the increase in project cost," according to the audit, "B.E.S. Columbia Building: Scope addition and ineffective design oversight led to substantially higher project costs."

The audit makes several recommendations for preventing such unapproved cost increases in the future. They include clarifying competing priorities, considering related needs before submitting the first budget request, better defining what the project contracts are intended to accomplish, and obtaining formal council approval for significant changes and cost increases.

Fish was assigned BES as the project was nearing completion. In a letter accompanying the audit, he accepts its findings and recommendations.

"This audit raises serious and troubling issues," wrote Fish, who noted that he has already directed both BES and the water bureau to place contract changes greater than $500,000 on the council's the council's regular agenda for full discussions. "Good stewardship of ratepayer dollars is critical to maintaining public confidence in our utilities."

Marriott faulted the audit for using the $3.2 million figure as the starting point. In a letter accompanying the audit, Marriott wrote that the budget was adjusted to $8.9 million to include site improvements not in the original plan by December 2010. He described them as "important improvements" that are long-lasting investments in the facility.

"Starting with this adjusted budget would provide the reader with a better comparison to the final $11.5 million cost," Marriott wrote.

The audit can be found at http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=64479&a=506785.

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