Doing More

How a performance auditor can build community trust

Accountability and transparency are essential to democracy. As Eugene’s mayor, I invite you to explore with me the potential benefits of a performance auditor to improve the effectiveness of city government and build the community’s trust in our public process.

Last year, while knocking on doors, I heard many express concerns about how well city government is managing resources to advance community priorities.

This year in my State of the City address, I promised that “my goal is to improve our framework for communicating and accounting for our decisions so that everyone feels informed, heard and is comfortable with the decision-making process.”

To improve two-way communication between city government and the community, we’ve created the “dashboard” report available on the city’s website summarizing issues the Eugene City Council is considering. Every week I post a blog about the council’s recent work; every month I publish a guest viewpoint in the Register-Guard on an important issue facing the city.

I also continue to canvass every part of the city to hear public views firsthand. Common concerns include the cost of a new City Hall, how to make downtown work for everyone, how to ensure our neighborhoods continue to be great places to live while making room for new residents, and reducing traffic congestion.

But we must do more. In response to what I am hearing, I believe a performance auditor would improve the accountability and transparency of city government.

A performance auditor is not a financial auditor — we already have a strong audit department in our finance division.

A performance auditor looks beyond the dollars, evaluating the cost effectiveness and alignment of specific programs with the values and priorities the city has established. A performance auditor is independent of city staff, but works to make them more successful by determining key goals, assessing efforts and making recommendations for getting better results and communicating more clearly to the public what they do and why.

The idea of a performance auditor isn’t new. A 2002 charter review committee recommended that the city establish a performance auditor. But a shift in the City Council, a new city manager and a recession that cut city staffing combined to halt progress on this recommendation.

There are several ways to establish a performance auditor. Your voices will help find the best fit for a city of our size and resources.

A public process worked well to establish Eugene’s independent police auditor, who is hired by and reports directly to the City Council. A performance auditor could similarly be answerable to the City Council.

In some communities, the performance auditor is an elected position.

Currently, we can contract out for external performance audits, but this means paying to bring someone into the community who doesn’t know us as well.

Lane County already has a successful performance auditor that reports directly to the county commissioners and has already created significant savings. Eugene might even consider sharing that position to save costs.

Let’s open this conversation to explore these options and others. Our goal is to ensure that city government does the best possible job in delivering services to the public.

I want to conduct a listening tour around the community. I am also looking to ask a cross-section of community leaders to review the 2002 charter review committee recommendations to learn from the experiences of similar communities with performance auditors, and to report on the pros and cons of different approaches.

We have much to be proud of. Our city leadership prudently and effectively brought us through the worst recession since the depression, one that caused us to make significant cuts, and we have now stabilized the city’s budget.

But the community demands that we do better. I need your help to ensure that our city government serves us well, does so cost-effectively and enjoys the public’s trust.

Lucy Vinis is the mayor of Eugene.

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