Hard fought battle for watchdog post marked by respectful debate; winner oversees $2 billion budget

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Jennifer McGuirk was elected to become the elected watchdog of Multnomah County. As auditor, she'll provide an independent look at a $2 billion budget that includes jails and social services.Jennifer McGuirk beat Scott Learn Tuesday in a race for Multnomah County auditor that was hard but respectfully fought.

Unlike the financial or tax audits that often focus on legalities and match, the nonpartisan elected auditor's job entails researching government programs to look for inefficiencies and improvements, then issuing reports on what is found.

McGuirk, a staff auditor for outgoing county Auditor Steve March, will now serve as a watchdog over the $2 billion budget of Multnomah, which includes jails, social services and other programs.

Following a race with multiple head-to-head newspaper endorsement board meetings and debates, McGuirk garnered 56 percent of the vote as compared to 43 percent for Learn, a former longtime Oregonian reporter now working for the Oregon Secretary of State audits division.

While both campaigned on a pledge to be more energetic and high-profile than March, a former lawmaker, McGuirk also vowed to aggressively examine law enforcement and jail practices, including with an eye toward equity. She won the endorsement of unions including the one representing county employees, Local 88 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The race was marked generally by a lack of personal attacks other than debate over who had the better qualifications.

Though McGuirk had edged out not only Learn but a coworker, Mark Ulanowicz, in the primary, she said Tuesday that she hadn't been able to confidently predict the final outcome.

"I'm a little in shock and dazed," she said. "I'm extremely happy." She said that voters' endorsement of her agenda is "what's most satisfying and gratifying to me and also, frankly, super-humbling because I have set out an ambitious agenda, and now its up to me to deliver. And i'm going o work really hard every day to do that."

Learn, who had garnered the majority of endorsements from newspapers and former elected auditors, credited McGuirk's energetic campaign, including her endorsement from county employees and ties to Emerge Oregon, a group dedicated to training Democrats and women to run for higher office.

"I think she had a really strong vision for the office," he said. "I think she ran a really strong campaign, and I think she is well-qualified for the job, so I wish her all the best."

McGuirk was among the auditors who have provided in-depth scrutiny of the county animal shelter, issuing audits that in particular questioned poor management there. The audits highlighted the treatment of dogs who frequently were largely ignored for months, contrary to humane treatment standards and potentially fueling anti-social or even aggressive behavior once adopted out to the public. Some elected county commissioners publicly resisted the audit and minimized the results.

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