Hold off on Auditor Lite: Competing Eugene measure would muddy waters

In the January 12, 2018, issue of the Register-Guard, the editorial board writes:

In May, Eugene voters will decide whether to approve a charter amendment that would give the city a performance auditor with as much independence as the proposal’s authors could devise. Their intent is to insulate the auditor as completely as possible against interference by the Eugene City Council and city manager. Where the authors see independence, however, critics see a lack of accountability. These critics are well on their way toward getting the City Council to place a competing measure on the May ballot—call it Auditor Lite. The council should pull back from this approach.

The proposal for a hyper-independent auditor, Measure 20-283, reached the ballot by means of an initiative campaign conducted by a group called City Accountability, whose leadership includes several former City Council members.

Under Measure 20-283, the auditor would be elected, and would head an office whose budget would be pegged at 0.1 percent of Eugene’s all-funds budget — which this year would work out to $667,000. This funding mechanism ensures that the City Council couldn’t hobble the auditor by starving the office of funds.

The auditor’s salary would be calculated by a formula based on the pay of other top municipal officials, which at current levels would equal $153,000 a year. This would prevent the council from weakening the auditor by cutting the pay for the position.

And who will audit the auditor? Under Measure 20-283, no one but the voters — and that’s by design. Critics say the result would be a lack of oversight of the kind that is provided to other functions of city government by citizen advisory committees, the City Council or both. It’s possible to conjure scenarios of a rogue auditor, or of an auditor who spends all day in a brew pub. Citizens of Eugene could do nothing about a poorly performing auditor except wait for the end of a four-year election cycle, or launch a recall campaign. …

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