County charter review proposal moves forward after split between commissioners and auditor

The Multnomah County Charter Review Committee met for the 15th and final time on July 20 and agreed to a compromise in a dispute between Auditor Jennifer McGuirk and two of her elected colleagues, the county chairwoman by Multnomah Deborah Kafoury and curator Jessica Vega Pederson.

At its last meeting, the committee considered a list of six changes to the charter, in addition to those it had already agreed to (making the language of the charter gender-neutral and extending the right to vote to county undocumented residents).

The proposed changes: preferential voting by 2026; language that explicitly requires the auditor’s timely access to records, information and documents for audits; establish an ombudsman’s office in the auditor’s office; citizen inspection of prisons; update the charter review process; and put a hotline on waste, fraud and abuse in the charter.

McGuirk wants to cement his office’s watchdog role at a time when the county’s budget — $3.32 billion next year — is bigger than ever and brimming with new money from Measure 2.5 billion over 10 years for homeless services in the metro.

In recent years, McGuirk said her office’s access to animal services in Multnomah County declined after the office released a scathing audit in 2016. And last year she went public with her concerns that that the Joint Homeless Services Office was slowing down requests for data for an audit. of this office.

There was no denial at the final charter review meeting to McGuirk’s request for timely access to information in the future. But in letters they submitted for public comment before the July 20 meeting, Kafoury and Vega Pederson objected to including the ombudsman’s office and the hotline in the charter.

“Inserting the office of the ombudsman and the good government hotline into the charter risks tying the hands of the county when it must make the necessary and timely adjustments to ensure the effectiveness and responsiveness of these programs,” wrote Kafoury.

“If these functions were attached to the Charter, neither the Auditor nor the County Board of Commissioners would be able to deal with program or service delivery redundancies effectively or efficiently to better meet the needs of residents and employees.”

Vega Pederson expressed similar reservations. “I strongly support the Good Governance Hotline and the creation of an ombudsman office, but I don’t think including them in the county charter is prudent or responsible in the long term,” Vega Pederson wrote. . “Including elements in the charter can unintentionally tie the hands of future board members and make necessary changes or modifications difficult and time-consuming.”

The charter review committee split the baby, agreeing with McGuirk that the ombudsman’s position should be in the charter, but adhering to Kafoury and Vega Pederson’s wish that the hotline remain in county code.

McGuirk, who is independently elected, said she was disappointed and worried that putting the hotline in the code wouldn’t provide enough accountability.

“I feel like the hotline should be in the charter to align with best practices in state law and for the public to learn about substantiated investigations,” McGuirk said.

Kafoury insists that she and the listener want the same thing. “We share a common goal in supporting our county’s Good Government Hotline,” Kafoury said. “I am committed to following the committee’s recommendation by ensuring that the Board of Commissioners puts the hotline into county code.”

McGuirk hopes to work with county officials to make the hotline effective. “I hope fidelity to this state law and existing hotline practices will be clear in the draft code that the county attorney develops, so that I can support it,” she says.

The package of proposed charter amendments is now before the County Board of Commissioners for approval.

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Jennifer R. Strohm