Council postpones placing auditor's reform measure on ballot
Portlanders will probably get to vote on a measure to make the City Auditor's Office more independent on May 16, but time is rapidly running out for the City Council to place it on the ballot.
At a Jan. 25 hearing, a majority of the City Council seemed willing to put an amended version of the measure prepared by City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero on the special election ballot. But the council pushed the decision to Feb. 1, and there is no guarantee the final vote will take place then.
Although the deadline for placing the measure on the special election ballot is March 16, the council must make the referral in early February to meet all election deadlines.
Hull Cabellaro says the independence of her office is compromised because numerous city agencies have authorty over its functions, including the Bureau of Human Resources, the City Attorneys Office, and the City Budget Office. She says he proposal is based on best practices to ensure the independence of similar offices across the country.
"Independence of the auditor's office is something that cannot be left vulnerable to politics of the day or personalities of the moment. The auditor is not treated as an elected official but rather is treated like a bureau," Hull Caballero told the council.
Many amendments were introduced to the proposal at Wednesday's hearing, and some of those who testified had other suggestions, too. Although Hull Caballero has already amended her original proposal to meet council concerns, she must now decide what other changes she is willing to accept.
For example, Hull Cabellaro originally proposed putting two functions within her office in the charter so the council cannot eliminate them. One is the Independent Police Review (IPR) division that considers complaints against the police, and other is the Ombudsman Office that investigate citizen complaints about city operations.
Hull Cabellaro previously agreed not to put IPR in the charter because it may be revised to better comply with the city's settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the police bureau's history of excessive force against the mentally ill. At the hearing, Commissioner Dan Saltzman offered an amendment to not put the Ombudsman Office in the charter, either, noting that very few city positions are actually authorized by it.
Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who is the council member most opposed to the proposal, offered a series of amendments, including eliminating the requirement that the auditor be a certified auditor and retaining existing civil service protections for the employees of the office.
Commissioner Nick Fish appeared to be the most supportive member of the council.
"I believe that the Auditor must have the freedom to issue tough audits without the fear of retaliation from the council or city bureaus," Fish said.
To read a previous Portland Tribune story on the issue, visit http://tinyurl.com/hto6as5.