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from Eugene Weekly, December 7, 2017 by Ted Taylor:

20171207news-BlackmerDoes Eugene Need an Independent Auditor?

 Former elected Portland auditor talks about benefits of creating a similar office here

Why Eugene’s Auditor must be elected and have secure minimum funding…

The question is no longer whether Eugene needs a performance auditor; it’s who that auditor will answer to. The group City Accountability has a measure on the May ballot for an independent, elected auditor, and the Eugene City Council is deciding whether it will add a competing measure for an appointed performance auditor on the ballot.

Gary Blackmer, the recently retired director of the Oregon Secretary of State Audits Division, is the authority on performance auditors in Oregon. He previously served as the elected auditor of Portland for 10 years and the auditor of Multnomah County for eight years. He was also a consultant for the local petition initiative and has spoken in Eugene several times, the last time on May 17 at the downtown Eugene Public Library. Here Eugene Weekly has compiled some of his comments from his talks.

“We know auditing saves agencies money,” Blackmer says, answering a question on whether auditors actually save cities money. “We calculated it all different ways at the Oregon Secretary of State Office, and looking at three-year averages we return about $5 for every $1 spent.” Over time, he says, “It may get down to $2 or $3 if the auditor is doing his or her work well and the city performance gets better.”

Blackmer says financial audits look only at transactions, while performance audits look at the end results of spending. “A wise auditor told me we really ask only one question: What did you do with the money?”

Auditing large departments, such as public safety and public works, provides the largest dollar savings, he says. Millions of dollars can be saved from reduced lawsuits, longer lasting street paving, stricter contractor compliance, better bidding processes, eliminated redundancies, reduced turnover and training costs, more efficient office technology and systems, and more.

Cost reductions of just 1 percent in Eugene’s $83.5 million public safety budget would save $835,000 a year, more than covering the auditor office’s proposed budget of about $677,000.

As to why someone like unelected City Manager Jon Ruiz can’t just audit the city he’s charged with running: “Auditors have a lot of refined tools,” Blackmer says. “We bring a lot of expertise to departments. Smaller organizations do not have the kinds of tools that auditors have.” New department heads can benefit greatly, he says, by an unbiased examination of their departments.

“We focus on front-line staff. We talk to people and ask about the biggest problems they face in getting their jobs done. And we don’t just take their word for it. We do the analysis and look at how we can help these folks do a better job.”

“I tell agency heads that we have just one mission, and that is to help them achieve their mission,” he says.

Then there is the question of trust in government. “People put more faith in an auditor than in a police chief, the head of a health agency or the head of fleet management,” Blackmer says. “They trust auditors and they are more confident in projects if they know the auditor has looked at it first.”

Adding to trust, Blackmer says, is the auditor’s public hotline for reporting fraud and inefficiencies. Transparency is also a hallmark of an independent city auditor — all reports are posted online.

If auditing is about access to information, then why not just rely on Eugene’s journalists to bird dog the city? “There’s not a lot of difference between a good performance audit and a good newspaper story,” Blackmer replies. “But there are fewer and fewer reporters today and newspapers are getting thinner and thinner — you’re getting less sense of what’s going on in your government.”

Blackmer has hired several former newspaper reporters. “They are good interviewers, they can knock out an audit in no time, they have a nose for stories and they understand what’s important to the public.” He says city auditors have access to confidential contracts and other information not available to the press and can “get behind the curtain to see what’s actually happening.”

Blackmer points to some successes Portland has had in using auditors, such as using sophisticated technology to test the quality of new street paving in Portland and finding that “83 percent of the streets that were paved did not meet the standards set for the contractors.” Blackmer also uncovered an asphalt billing error that recovered $76,000 for the city treasury.

When park maintenance in Portland was audited, it was noted that “visionary” park directors were focused on acquiring and designing new parks. “Maintenance just never got the money,” Blackmer says. The auditor recommending setting aside 5 percent of the value of the parks each year for maintenance, and making sure the department keeps up with repairs.

Finally, an audit of sexual assault cases uncovered “a pretty horrendous situation,” Blackmer says. Some officers were very unsympathetic to victims, and the department was not following best practices established by the Oregon attorney general.

A City Council vote on whether to pursue a competing measure was not scheduled as of press time.

 


 

“In Hard Times, Government Watchdogs Are Often First to Get the Ax,” by Mike Maciag, Governing, November 2017

cost+cutting+illo

 


How does an auditor election work? Follow the Multnomah County auditor campaign where 3 candidates are vying for the position.

 


WE DID IT!

10,017 VALID SIGNATURES! Almost 2,000 more than required to get on the ballot!

Winning Letter

Made possible by the most dedicated hard-working volunteer team imaginable. 100 days to gather 8,091 VALID signatures is a crazy challenge — there hasn’t been a citizen initiative in Eugene since 1996 — and it is a measure, not only of our hours with a clipboard, but the enthusiasm and support in our community for the idea of an ELECTED AUDITOR. On to the campaign!


11am Thursday, October 12 City Accountability submitted over 1,400 signature sheets! Watch the video here.

 


We’re done! 13,000 Eugene ballot measure petition signatures to be turned in for verification Thursday, 10/12 at 11am!

ClipboardToss

October 11 Press Release:

Almost 13,000 Eugene residents signed the petition for an independent ELECTED City Auditor.

Volunteers for the citizens’ initiative to amend the Eugene Charter to establish an Office of an independent, elected City Auditor will be submitting the the signatures for verification at 11 a.m. on Thursday, October 12 (day 99 of the 100-day limit) at the City Manager’s Office, 125 E. 8th Avenue, 2nd Floor, Lane County Public Service Building.

“City Accountability,” the petition committee proposing this ballot measure, needs 8,090 signatures to qualify for the May 2018 ballot. The City Recorder’s office and the County Elections officials have 15 days after submission to determine the number of valid signatures.

We are extremely confident that we have surpassed the required threshold of community support, but many details are left to the discretion of the City and County officials.

The three chief petitioners for this proposal are former City Councilors George Brown and Bonny Bettman McCornack, and neighborhood leader and local businessman David Monk.

The proposed charter amendment would authorize an independent elected City Auditor to conduct financial, performance, compliance, or other audits of all aspects of city government operations to determine whether public resources are used cost-effectively, services are provided fairly and efficiently, and adequate internal controls are in place to protect public assets, save money, improve service, and prevent fraud and waste.

“City Accountability” did not invent this wheel. The provisions in the Charter Amendment are based on professional auditing standards and model legislation from across our country. The committee researched other cities’ and jurisdictions’ charters, ordinances and budgets to propose an auditor function for the City of Eugene that will provide the needed checks and balances to our particular — strong manager/volunteer council — form of government.

 


City Accountability and Mayor Vinis’ auditor study group on local news August 17: KVAL & KMTR

 


Our Revolution Endorses Elected Independent City Auditor Charter Amendment

Our Revolution

Our Revolution Lane County went 35 to 2 in favor of endorsing the ballot measure in a vote held after a debate between Chief Petitioner Bonny Bettman McCornack and Chris Wig, Read the full Eugene Weekly article here.

 


from the Lindholm Company Blog, August 1, 2017
Eugeneans See City Hall Project Handled Poorly

Lindholm graph 8.1

Eugeneans disapprove if the handling of the city hall project by an overwhelming margin.

QUESTION: Do you approve or disapprove of How the project to build the new Eugene City Hall has been handled? IF APPROVE/DISAPPROVE: Is that strongly or somewhat? IF DON’T KNOW: Which way do you lean?
METHODOLOGY: 200 live telephone interviews of City of Eugene likely General Election voters were conducted April 10-11, 2017. The margin of error at the sample median is 7%.

 


from the Lindholm Company Blog, July 18, 2017
Eugene Independent Auditor Supported by Wide Margin

lindholm graph

Adding an elected Independent Auditor in Eugene is supported by a wide margin. However, it does not hit the crucial 70% level. Ideas that sound good tend to get a large amount of initial support. Campaigns tend to reduce that support. Usually a measure like this would need something above 60% to be really ahead and would like north of 70% to be comfortable.

It’s important to keep in mind that this is based on the old wording and for a general election. Should have updated polling later in the year.

QUESTION: City of Eugene Office of the Independent Auditor. The auditor would be elected to four-year terms, would operate separately from the city council and manager and would conduct financial, performance and other audits of all city operations and activities.
METHODOLOGY: 200 live telephone interviews of City of Eugene likely General Election voters were conducted April 10-11, 2017. The margin of error at the sample median is 7%.

NOTE: The text of the question was based on official documents and coverage by the Register Guard newspaper at the time of the survey. Subsequently the city proposed a caption and question which would lead to a different survey question wording.

 


 An Independent Elected City Auditor can…

• Provide unbiased verification of public spending
• Continuously improve city services
• Save money
• Ensure fact-based decision making
• Detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse
• Strengthen internal controls
• Increase trust and goodwill in government