Our Opinion: Give independence to city watchdog
Measure 26-189: YES
We liked this proposal when Portland City Auditor Mary Hull Caballero floated it late last year. We like it even more after she fine-tuned it.
In Portland, the elected auditor is the City Hall watchdog. Hull Caballero and her predecessors have generally played that role well. But they've been constrained by a leash that would be loosened with this amendment to the city charter.
Under Portland's peculiar form of government, the mayor and four city commissioners are both legislators and agency executives, blending duties typically kept separate.
Elected officials aren't keen on pointing out mistakes made by the agencies they oversee, so it falls to the city auditor to provide "independent and impartial reviews."
That's tough when she doesn't completely control her personnel decisions or budget.
It's even harder since the auditor's office currently may obtain legal advice only from the city attorney's office, which represents the commissioners and bureaus that Hull Caballero needs to investigate.
And finally, although the city ombudsman (the public's trouble-shooter) has been in the auditor's office since 2001, the position is not in the charter, meaning councilors unhappy with an independent review could simply eliminate the post.
Measure 26-189 would fix these problems by allowing the auditor to hire independent lawyers, control staffing decisions and submit the office budget directly to the City Council. It also puts the ombudsman's position in the city charter.
Voters shouldn't be nonchalant about changing the city charter and increasing the power of elected officials. But we are confident that safeguards remain in place: The city council still retains control over the auditor's budget, and those seeking election as auditor must hold professional accounting credentials and conform to professional standards.
There is no organized opposition to this measure, and the City Club of Portland, after studying the proposal extensively, gave it a strong endorsement.
So do we.