It wasn’t the first shot directed at the Portland City Auditor from former Mayor Charlie Hales. But when Hales demanded last year that Auditor Mary Hull Caballero, an elected official like him, submit a budget request with cuts that no other elected official faced, he sent a clear message of his lack of regard for her office.

That’s not surprising, considering the many clashes between Hales and Hull Caballero, whose office is tasked with holding city government accountable. Among them: Hales’ unprofessional tirade when the auditor and her staff proposed tightening lobbying rules and Hales’ dismissive treatment of her office’s ombudsman division, which investigates citizens’ complaints against city bureaus.

But Hull Caballero should thank Hales for one thing: His behavior highlights exactly why her proposal to increase the auditor’s independence from the rest of city government is so necessary and deserves to go before voters for their consideration. City commissioners, including new Mayor Ted Wheeler, are to decide Wednesday whether to put on the May ballot a measure to expand the auditor’s authority and enshrine the ombudsman’s office in the city charter.

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Under the proposal, the auditor would gain greater autonomy in hiring decisions and procuring goods and services. The office would also be able to seek outside legal advice instead of relying on the city attorney who advises the same bureaus that the auditor may be scrutinizing. And the auditor would submit her budget request to the mayor and City Council for their consideration as opposed to a process that’s more the opposite. It also seeks to put into charter the ombudsman office, helping protect the division from being disbanded by a simple Council vote.

The proposal, however, has a few hurdles to clear before going before voters. Among them: amendments offered by Commissioners Dan Saltzman and Amanda Fritz which appear to only weaken the office. Saltzman questioned whether the ombudsman function should be specifically included in the city charter, noting few positions are specified. Fritz proposed, among other things, removing the requirement that the city auditor be credentialed as a certified public accountant, certified internal auditor or certified management accountant.

Their colleagues should reject both ideas. The ombudsman, a function of the office for the past 16 years, Bahis Siteleri has proven its vital role in the city time and again. Among other things, Portlanders no longer have to shell out as much as $1,300 to appeal permit denials or other city decisions, thanks to work by the ombudsman’s office.  The ombudsman’s office also discovered a serious flaw in the city’s 911 system, identified the lack of conflicts-of-interest disclosures on powerful advisory committees and handles hundreds of complaints every year that come in from citizens.

These are real results for Portlanders who don’t necessarily have the time or wherewithal to navigate or challenge the city’s bizarrely confusing process. This isn’t about merely preserving a position. It’s about preserving citizens’ rights and access to their government.

Commissioners should also chuck Fritz’s proposal to remove the credentialing requirement. The change would only invite disaster for an office that has served as such an effective check on government because of its steadfast professionalism. Auditor after auditor has come to this office over the years with a background and ethic shaped by the high standards, expertise and principles demanded by such licensing. Taking away that minimum requirement risks politicizing an office whose best work is done with the public’s interest – not personal interest – in mind.

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While the main event on Wednesday will be the council’s expected approval of the proposal which, Commissioner Nick Fish hailed as “one of the most important reform measures” in his tenure, there’s another win that deserves mentioning. The proposal reflects the collaboration and collegiality between the auditor and Mayor Ted Wheeler to find a solution that met both of their goals. For example, while Hull Caballero initially wanted to include the Independent Police Review division in the amendment, she agreed to delete it from her proposal to allow Wheeler, the police commissioner, more latitude in restructuring police oversight. That cooperation stands in stark contrast to Hales’ attitude. It not only helps create good policy but gives Portlanders more confidence in their government.

That confidence could only be amplified by a 5-0 vote by city commissioners to forward the proposal to voters – without the Saltzman and Fritz amendments. That unanimity would speak volumes about the sincerity of each commissioner’s commitment to the value of an independent auditor. So too, does anything less than that.

– The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board

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