As long-time volunteers who watch Eugene’s city government closely, we want a strong and effective performance auditor. That’s why we’re supporting measure 20-287, and not 20-283.
The best way to understand how 20-287 will be more effective is to start with the way Eugene’s government currently works. We have a voice in one simple way: We elect eight councilors and a mayor, and they direct the city manager.
Everyone else in city government works for the city manager. All small spending decisions, the preparation of the budget, the maintenance of our streets and parks, hiring and firing of staff — all of that falls to the city manager and his executive staff. You may not like it, but that is our form of government — so-called council-manager form — and it’s written into the city charter.
When you look at it that way, you realize that an auditor shouldn’t be auditing the City Council for one simple reason: There’s nothing to audit! Councilors make major policy decisions and set the direction for spending. In our form of government, their job is the big picture. Do we get Lyft and Uber, or not? Do we pass a Climate Recovery Ordinance, or not? Do we tear down City Hall, or not? Dogs downtown, or not? Come up with a real housing strategy, or not?
Those are the important policy questions that come before council. Don’t like the answers? Elect different councilors and a different mayor. Vote for a different strategy for the big picture.
Still, with all of the details in the hands of the city manager and other staff, the mayor and council need a better way to assess their performance. And that is where an auditor under Measure 20-287 gives our elected officials a new tool. The measure creates a position — independent of city staff, reporting directly to council — to be the eyes and ears of mayor and council. By acting at the direction of the people we elect, an appointed performance auditor will help to bring the city manager and city organization in line with our community’s goals.
We see a lot of questions that a performance auditor could ask of city government to make council more effective. How efficient is our spending on homelessness? Is our level of ambulance service sufficient? Which public safety strategies have been most effective? And how quickly are we implementing the Climate Recovery Ordinance? These questions concern the performance of city government — meaning, the city manager and the 1,500 people who work for him.
Measure 20-287 has the right ingredients for real accountability: a citizen oversight committee; reasonable salary and budget; and the right relationship to City Council, which must ultimately implement the recommendations the auditor generates. (By contrast, Measure 20-283 gets most of these details wrong, doesn’t fit with our current form of government and just creates another politician. But that isn’t our focus here.)
Maybe most of all, the appointed auditor would be independent — specifically, independent in the way that matters: not answering to the city manager, the position whose performance would get audited.
Our community has big goals — on homelessness, climate change, public safety, parks, downtown, neighborhoods and more. We elect a City Council to set policy and pass budgets to pursue those aims and values. Now let’s put in place an appointed performance auditor and help those elected officials get the job done.
We want government to be efficient and effective, and we want to know how our money gets spent pursuing our goals. That’s why we’re supporting an appointed auditor. Join us in voting “Yes” on Measure 20-287.
John Barofsky is a former city of Eugene Budget Committee member, and he currently sits on Lane County’s Performance Audit Committee. Joshua Skov is a member of the city of Eugene Budget Committee.