City Auditor Mary Hull Cabellero today released a scathing review of the city's practice of doling out tens of millions of dollars in discretionary grants and awards without a process for deciding who should get the money or tracking the results of such spending.
Here's a summary of the audit's findings:
Portland City Council grants funds to outside organizations for activities ranging from arts performances to social service programs. The grants may be ‘special appropriations’ or funded directly through a City bureau’s budget. These amounts ranged from $9 million to $17 million in each of the last five fiscal years. Because the budget approach to these grants varies, the total is hard to quantify.
The City Council does not conduct any upfront planning to define the program objectives for grants they fund, but instead provides grants directly to specific organizations and activities. There is no competition to ensure that public money is provided to organizations best able to provide the services. Transparency of these grant awards is also limited, and it is difficult for the public to track who receives grants.
Once the grants are issued, grant monitoring is inconsistent and cannot ensure that intended results are achieved. Many of the grants are for arts, education, or social service activities that don’t fit into the City’s bureau structure. Instead, these grants are often managed in a Commissioner’s Office. Commission staff receive no training in grant management and have no procedures to follow, so monitoring is minimal. Only very rarely are grant results reported or used to inform the next year’s budget decisions.
In a Jan. 15 letter to Hull Caballero, Mayor Charlie Hales and city budget chief Andrew Scott agreed past practices were unacceptable and pledged improvement.
"In response to concerns noted in the audit," Hales and Scott wrote, "the City Budget Office has drafted a Special Appropriations Grant Management Guide outlining policies and procedures for allocating, monitoring and evaluating special appropriations grant funding."