For the first time in 36 years, Portland has a race for city auditor – Oregon Public Broadcasting

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FILE PHOTO: Portland City Hall. The Portland city auditor earns about $125,000 a year, oversees 52 employees and has a budget of over $11 million. Their job is to keep the mayor and councilors accountable by doing impartial reviews of city programs and making them public.
City of Portland
One of the least scrutinized races in Portland this election season will likely be for city auditor. Voters tend to overlook the race because the position isn’t partisan, candidates must be qualified as accountants or auditors and, for the last 36 years, the winner has run unopposed.
But the Pacific Northwest has a strong tradition of elected auditors. Portland has had one since 1868. And the office is substantial: The auditor earns about $125,000 a year, oversees 52 employees and controls a budget of over $11 million.
The auditor’s job is to keep the mayor, city commissioners and city bureaus accountable by doing impartial reviews of city programs and making them public.
Related: Election 2022: OPB Ballot Guide
Over the last year, current auditor Mary Hull Caballero has looked into everything from sewer maintenance to fraud and waste. In 2021 she said she would not be seeking a third term. And this year she roundly castigated the council for pushing a ballot measure to change the way the city handles civilian oversight of the police.
The disagreement is just one of many reasons why both candidates, Simone Rede and Brian Setzler, say the auditor’s role deserves scrutiny.
Here’s a look at the two candidates and their campaigns:
Setzler describes the job of auditor as a bit like being an umpire.
“Hold Mayor Wheeler accountable, hold the city council accountable,” he said in a recent interview.
“There’s a crisis in homelessness, public safety, affordability, climate change. (They) are all things that we need to address,” said Portland city auditor candidate Brian Setzler. “I’m looking to bring an independent eye to this process.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB
Setzler, who has a master’s degree in sustainable business, said he wants to focus on what’s known in accounting circles as the triple bottom line: on Portland’s environment, economics and equity. He said politically savvy friends suggested he run, although he’s not mentioning any names.
He has been a certified public accountant in Oregon for 30 years and has worked with two large international accounting firms. He has also worked in the public sector with the Washington State Department of Revenue and now runs his own business.
Setzler moved to Oregon from Seattle and said that while he’s proud of Portland, he worries the city has lost its sheen.
“There’s a crisis in homelessness, public safety, affordability, climate change. (They) are all things that we need to address,” he said. ” I’m looking to bring an independent eye to this process.”
Setzler said he doesn’t have a particular issue he’d focus on if elected, but said the city is going to be spending a lot of money on homelessness.
“The question is: What do we do? Are we getting the bang for our buck? Is what we’re doing actually getting people off the street?” he said.
Before identifying any new audits, Setzler said he wants to talk to commissioners, community activists, business and labor leaders, to see what needs attention.
Setzler is endorsed by the Pacific Green Party, the Oregon Progressive Party and the Independent Party of Oregon. He recently deleted his Twitter account after discussions about population and homelessness grew heated. He suggested society might reduce population, change lifestyles and reduce consumption. Other social media users called him an eco-fascist.
Setzler told OPB that people were taking his comments out of context and that it wasn’t productive to have a nuanced conversation in 280 characters or less.
One of the most controversial issues the new auditor will have to deal with are changes to Portland’s Independent Police Review process. Voters passed Measure 26-217 in 2020 to replace the review board with a new board. Details are still being hashed out, but unlike the old board, the new board will have the authority to discipline officers and compel them to testify if they are under investigation.
Current Auditor Mary Hull Caballero is not happy with Measure 26-217 and is pushing control of the Independent Police Review out of her office and onto the entire city council. She’s not seeking reelection.
Setzler voted for Measure 26-217 and said he’ll work with city leaders to implement the will of the voters.
There is one drawback to the job of city auditor. In Portland, the city council gets to approve the auditors’ budget — meaning it is theoretically possible for commissioners and the mayor to punish the auditor if they disagree with the scope or substance of the office’s work.
It’s not the kind of thing Setzler has had to deal with in the private sector. But he says private sector experience is what the city needs right now.
“We haven’t had a contested race since Ronald Reagan was president, and I believe it has been one bureaucrat professional after another moving up into this office,” he said. ” And so I’m looking to bring in an independent, outside perspective to help get this city back on track.”
“As a performance auditor I’m looking at how effectively programs are working. I’m not necessarily looking at how well our finances are being accounted for,” said Portland auditor candidate Simone Rede. “That’s something that a completely different office is responsible for at the city.”
Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB
The other candidate in the race, Rede, is the principal management auditor at Metro, the regional government. She has worked herself up through the ranks of the public sector.
She said auditors like herself and accountants like Setzler perform different jobs.
“As a performance auditor I’m looking at how effectively programs are working. I’m not necessarily looking at how well our finances are being accounted for,” she said. “That’s something that a completely different office is responsible for at the city.”
In 1986, voters clarified the duties of the auditor authorizing broad-scope performance audits. But they have to be done in accordance with Government Auditing Standards at the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
Rede said a good auditor needs a thorough knowledge of how governments work as well as strong analytical skills.
She’s endorsed by a number of the more prominent groups that tend to participate in city elections, including the Basic Rights Equality PAC, the Color PAC, the NW Oregon Labor Council and the Portland Business Alliance.
Rede said she also understands what does not fall under the auditor’s bailiwick: “The auditor’s role is not to design policy necessarily, but see if it’s being implemented as intended,” she said.
Rede was born in Portland and has worked for decades auditing government agencies such as the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.
“I worked as a performance auditor there on audits of Oregon’s childcare system, identifying improvements in safety and affordability. And I also worked on the first audit of TriMet, which was a legislatively mandated audit,” she said.
Before becoming an auditor, Rede worked in a number of Portland’s alternative schools, advocating for continuing education.
If elected, Rede said, she’ll look for better ways to reach out to Portland residents, like on social media. That way she hopes they can play a larger role in deciding which audits need to be performed.
At the top of her current list of concerns is the way Portland is responding to the homelessness crisis.
“There’ve been a lot of proposals coming through the pipeline, a lot of untested ideas that I think are worth looking into with the auditor’s resources,” she said.
Like Setzler, Rede voted for Measure 26-217, to change the Independent Police Review board. She said she would use her authority to improve police accountability.
Rede and Setzler are both running using Portland’s Small Donor Elections program. It’s a campaign finance system that attempts to reduce the influence of money in politics by limiting the contributions candidates can accept. In return, they get small dollar donations matched six-fold by the city.
An audit released Thursday flagged structural problems with oversight, accountability and management in the environmental justice program voters approved in 2018 to fight climate change while supporting disadvantaged communities.
Portland City Council’s plan to transition to a new police oversight board has been so chaotic, City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero informed the council and the U.S. Department of Justice on Monday that she will force the council to assume control of the Independent Police Review starting July 1.
While the proposal to scrap the city’s system of police oversight and replace it with a new body faces little in the way of formal opposition, the measure has its fair share of skeptics who warn it will face significant legal challenges if approved.
Tags: Election 2022, City Of Portland, Portland, Audit, Government
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