IT'S AMONG the sweetest perks of office when you're Portland's independently elected auditor.
If someone powerful like, say, Mayor Charlie Hales does something that enrages you or disappoints you or both, you can puncture the usual norms of city hall decorum by calling him out very publicly and rather frankly. It's part of your job description.
And, best of all, you can do that without worrying about little things like payback or the political cost of sore feelings.
All of which explains why City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade felt extraordinarily comfortable when she sat in front of the City Club of Portland last Friday, February 14, and aired a months-old grievance about the mayor—and his seemingly slow embrace of common-sense police oversight reforms finally approved early this year.
"I was a little bit stunned this last go-round," Griffin-Valade told the grandees, advocates, police brass, and others who'd gathered at a luncheon to hear her address police accountability alongside Police Chief Mike Reese and Independent Police Review Director Constantin Severe.
Remembering 2010, the last time she put forward a package of reforms, she said, "We had a very aware mayor and council members who were supportive of us and our partners."
That was an unsubtle shoutout to former Mayor Sam Adams, presiding over the proceedings in the back of the room as part of his new job as City Club's executive director. It was an even less subtle jab at Hales and his colleagues, none of whom were in attendance.
Griffin-Valade then made sure no one would mistake her point.
She felt like she had a "target on my back"—a pretty unjust reward for her answer to a federal investigation that looked at how Portland officers treat people with mental illness and found fault with the city's "byzantine" mechanisms for oversight and accountability.
"That's exactly what this felt like," she said. "And it was out of whack."
Griffin-Valade and Severe (and former IPR Director Mary-Beth Baptista before him) started beating the drum for reforms almost a year ago. What they wanted was modest: expanding a citizen appeal board, requiring the chief of police to reveal discipline in certain cases and better explain his decisions, and letting civilian investigators directly interview cops.
But when they finally sat before city council to present their ideas in the fall, Hales invited Reese to lay out his gripes and then held off on scheduling a final vote for weeks. A few compromises were made in the interim. But Griffin-Valade wondered why those discussions couldn't have been had sooner. Or why Hales and the council hadn't backed her more strongly.
"It was difficult to get the council engaged in that discussion," she said at City Club.
Hales, later that day, received word of Griffin-Valade's comments. The mayor, through his spokesman, Dana Haynes, decided not to hit back. At least not without a smile.
"The mayor continues to be very, very strongly in favor of having an independently elected auditor," Haynes says, "which means they independently say things they independently believe."