For the first time in 36 years, Portland City organizes a race for listeners

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FILE PHOTO: Portland City Hall. The Portland City Auditor earns approximately $125,000 a year, oversees 52 employees, and has a budget of over $11 million. Their job is to hold the mayor and councilors accountable by conducting impartial reviews of city programs and making them public.

City of Portland

Probably one of the least watched races in Portland this election season will be for city auditor. Voters tend to overlook the race because the position is nonpartisan, candidates must be qualified as accountants or auditors, and for the past 36 years the winner has run unopposed.

But the Pacific Northwest has a strong tradition of elected listeners. Portland has had one since 1868. And the office is big: the auditor earns about $125,000 a year, oversees 52 employees, and controls a budget of more than $11 million.

The auditor’s job is to hold the mayor, city commissioners and city offices accountable by conducting impartial reviews of city programs and making them public.

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Over the past year, current Auditor Mary Hull Caballero has looked into everything from sewer maintenance to fraud and waste. In 2021, she said she would not seek a third term. And this year, she roundly lambasted the council for pushing a ballot measure to change how the city handles civilian oversight of police.

The disagreement is just one of many reasons why the two candidates, Simone Rede and Brian Setzler, say the role of the auditor deserves scrutiny.

Here’s a look at the two candidates and their campaigns:

Brian Setzler

Brian Setzler describes the job of an auditor as somewhat like that of a referee.

“Hold Mayor Wheeler accountable, hold City Council accountable,” he said in a recent interview.

“There is a crisis of homelessness, of public safety, of affordability, of climate change.  (They) are all things we have to sort out,” said Portland City Auditor Candidate Brian Setzler.

“There is a crisis of homelessness, of public safety, of affordability, of climate change. (They) are all things we have to sort out,” said Portland City Auditor Candidate Brian Setzler. “I seek to bring an independent perspective to this process.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Setzler, who holds a master’s degree in sustainable business, said he wants to focus on what accounting circles call the triple bottom line: on the environment, the economy and Portland’s equity. He said politically savvy friends suggested he run, although he didn’t mention any names.

Setzler has been a CPA in Oregon for 30 years and has worked with two major 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 from Seattle to Oregon and said that while he was proud of Portland, he feared the city had lost its shine.

“There is a crisis of homelessness, of public safety, of affordability, of climate change. (They) are all things we need to tackle,” he said. “I seek to provide an independent perspective on this process. »

Setzler said he didn’t have a particular issue he would focus on if elected, but said the city will spend a lot of money on homelessness.

“The question is: what do we do? Are we getting our money’s worth? Is what we’re doing actually getting people off the streets? ” he said.

Before identifying new audits, Setzler said he wants to speak to commissioners, community activists, business leaders and union leaders, to see what needs attention.

Setzler is supported by the Pacific Green Party, the Oregon Progressive Party and the Independent Party of Oregon. He recently deleted his Twitter account after discussions on population and homelessness was warming up. He suggested that society could reduce population, change lifestyles and reduce consumption. Other social media users called him an eco-fascist.

Setzler told OPB that people take his comments out of context and that having a nuanced conversation in 280 characters or less isn’t productive.

One of the most contentious issues the new auditor will have to deal with concerns changes to the Portland Police Independent Review process. Voters passed Measure 26-217 in 2020 to replace the review board with a new board. Details are still being worked out, but unlike the old council, the new council will have the power to discipline officers and compel them to testify if they are under investigation.

Current Auditor Mary Hull Caballero is unhappy with Measure 26-217 and is pushing independent police review oversight out of her office and onto the entire city council. She is not seeking re-election.

Setzler voted for Measure 26-217 and said he would work with city leaders to implement the will of voters.

There is a downside to the job of municipal auditor. In Portland, the city council must approve the auditors’ budget, which means it’s theoretically possible for commissioners and the mayor to punish the auditor if they disagree with the scope or substance of the work. from the office.

That’s not the kind of stuff 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 there’s been one professional bureaucrat after another in that office,” he said. “And so I’m looking to bring an independent outside perspective to help get this city back on track.”

Simone Rede

“As a performance auditor, I examine the effectiveness of programs.  I don't necessarily look at how well our finances are accounted for,” said Portland audit candidate Simone Rede.

“As a performance auditor, I examine the effectiveness of programs. I don’t necessarily look at how well our finances are accounted for,” said Portland audit candidate Simone Rede. “It’s something that a completely different office is responsible for in the city.”

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

The other candidate in the running, Simone Rede, is the main management auditor of Metro, the regional government. She rose through the ranks of the public sector.

She said auditors like her and accountants like Setzler do different jobs.

“As a performance auditor, I examine the effectiveness of programs. I don’t necessarily look at how well our finances are counted,” she said. “It’s something that a completely different office is responsible for in the city.”

In 1986, voters clarified the duties of the auditor allowing wide-ranging performance audits. But they must be done in accordance with the government auditing standards of the US Government Accountability Office.

Rede said a good auditor must have a deep understanding of how governments work as well as strong analytical skills.

It is endorsed by a number of the largest groups that tend to run in municipal 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 falls outside the bailiwick of the auditor: “The role of the auditor is not necessarily to design a policy, but to see if it is implemented as intended”, she said.

Rede was born in Portland and worked for decades auditing government agencies such as the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

“I worked there as a performance auditor on audits of the Oregon child care system, identifying improvements in safety and affordability. And I also worked on TriMet’s first audit, which was a legally mandated audit,” she said.

Before becoming an auditor, Rede worked at a number of alternative schools in Portland, advocating for continuing education.

If elected, Rede said, she will look for better ways to reach Portland residents, such as on social media. That way, she hopes they can play a bigger role in deciding which audits to perform.

At the top of his current list of concerns is how Portland is responding to the homelessness crisis.

“There have been a lot of proposals in the pipeline, a lot of untested ideas that I think are worth exploring with auditor 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 both use Portland’s Small Donor Elections program. It is a campaign finance system that attempts to reduce the influence of money in politics by limiting the contributions that candidates can accept. In return, they receive small dollar donations matched by the city.

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