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Will audit briefing answer questions about Marriott's leave?

Portland’s City Council will learn more Tuesday morning about why Commissioner Nick Fish placed Bureau of Environmental Service Director Dean Marriott on paid leave.

Fish, who oversees BES and the Water Bureau, placed Marriott on leave last week after a city audit documented questionable decisions within BES that helped triple the cost of its new employee building at the Columbia Wastewater Treatment Plant. City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade will brief the council on the audit beginning at 9 a.m. on Oct. 28.

Among other things, the audit says BES did not fully inform the council that the project cost was increasing from $3.2 million to $11.5 million. Fish has declined to discuss why he placed Marriott on leave, saying it is a personnel matter. But he has retained the Barran Liebman law firm to review the project for possible ethical or legal violations. Marriott is protected by city civil service policies but can be fired for cause.

The Citizens Utility Board believes the audit shows that the Bureau of Environmental Services violated its internal policies and went around Commissioner Dan Satzman to fund some of the increases. Saltzman was in charge of the project for most of the time it was under construction. CUB is a statewide utility watchdog organization that has been retained by the city to analyze spending and rate setting decisions at BES and the Water Bureau.

CUB consumer advocate Janice Thomson posted an analysis of the audit on the organization’s website on Oct. 22. Among other things, it pointed out that BES paid a design consultant on the project an additional $95,581 through a change order after Saltzman stopped supporting further cost increases. And the analysis reported that BES appears to have violated its contact provisions intended to prevent conflicts of interest on such projects.

“Appropriately, this has prompted Nick Fish, the commissioner-in-charge for BES, to bring in an independent law firm for a legal review,” Thompson wrote.

Thompson also wrote that the audit’s findings support CUB’s call for the city to create a new oversight group to review capital project planning and cost increases. CUB has urged the Utility Oversight Blue Ribbon Commission studying BES and Water Bureau spending to recommend creation of such a group to the council.

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