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How independent should auditors be?

Just yesterday, in a Portland City Council meeting. the city’s auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, argued that the city charter interferes with the independence of her office.

Her primary gripes: Currently the charter requires that she take advice, as do city departments generally, from city attorneys. The charter also creates a situation in which she’s dependent on the Office of Management & Finance, as it controls important functions that the auditor’s office depends on, like human resources and contracting. Then, too, the city budget office makes recommendations about her budget, which could compromise her ability to criticize that office.

So, here’s the question. Can the Portland auditor, and others,  fairly examine the operations and performance of these or other city offices if she is dependent on their services? We can see that  this might be a problem.

But there’s another side to the issue; shouldn’t agencies and departments, which hold other agencies and departments accountable,  be held accountable themselves? At least one commissioner, Amanda Fritz, seems opposed to changes in the charter. We didn’t get a clear idea as to why, from the coverage of yesterday’s meeting, but past articles have cited her view that the auditor’s office needs more oversight itself and that investigations of personnel complaints would be a particular problem if it wasn’t under the authority of the Bureau of Human Resources. There will likely be a referendum in May for citizen’s to vote on a change in the city charter to provide more independence for the auditor. For more information, there’s a  write-up of yesterday’s council meeting here.

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