Auditors are arguably the most important elected officials in government—as well as the least known. These are the powerful nerds who dig into files reporters never get to see in order to reveal mismanagement, waste, and abuse in government programs. These are the clear-eyed folks who sift through budgets and talk to staffers to discover inequity and other issues that prevent good governance. The county’s auditing team is small—just eight staffers—but with a determined leader, it can have a massive impact.
We believe that leader is Jennifer McGuirk. She has the inside knowledge from already working within the current auditor’s office, but also has a revolutionary attitude. McGuirk views the role of the auditor as one who dares to “dig into the facts so we can hold government accountable,” and says she’s in favor of follow-up audits and creating public pressure to force government agencies to change for the better. That means she’ll be sharing inside info with the press, and, predictably, we’re big fans of that.
McGuirk decided to run in 2016 after seeing media reports about misuse of force against people of color in Multnomah County jails. “Our office did not look at it at all,” she says. “I found that unacceptable.” An audit of the county jail system is among her top priorities, alongside homeless and housing services, which she plans to audit “from the perspective of those trying to access the services.” That audit, she says, would function in partnership with the city’s auditor office.
Also on her priority list: the county’s “Good Government Hotline,” a long-neglected program meant to help county employees report problems and mismanagement in their own departments. McGuirk plans to publicize the hotline to help increase the number of calls, and hopes to use it to address racial and sexual discrimination in county offices. To help push equity, she also plans to change the structure of the auditor’s office by adding an “organizational ombudsman” to represent employees who feel they’re facing harassment and intimidation. (“It would be a confidential resource,” she says, “where they could have their concerns heard and explore options to arrive at a positive result for them.”) She also suggests training for county workers to help them learn what issues are reportable and keep them in the loop about their options for raising and resolving concerns.
The position’s other candidates also bring solid experience to the table: Mark Ulanowicz offers 30 years of experience as an auditor, 16 of which are in the office he’s running for. And Scott Learn, previously a reporter for the Oregonian and currently an auditor for the state, brings a watchdog sensibility we really appreciate. But McGuirk has the passion for good policing, equity, and fairness that make her the best choice.