After Contentious Budget Session, Auditor Warns Neither She Nor Staff Will Appear Before City Council Again

Mary Hull Cabellero decries “personal attacks” and “shout-downs” from Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

Portland City Hall in February 2021. (Brian Burk)

A contentious Portland City Council budget work session last week prompted a scathing email today from the independently elected city auditor, Mary Hull Caballero, decrying the verbal dressing-down she received in that work session from City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty.

"I am unwilling to put up with the unacceptable behavior on display during my last two appearances before Council," Hull Caballero wrote in an email to all five city commissioners this morning. "I also am unwilling to ask my staff to appear until we understand the rules of engagement."

Hull Caballero and Hardesty already had a testy relationship, based in part on their divergent views on the Independent Police Review office, which reports to Hull Caballero.

Hardesty's belief that IPR is ineffective in its mission to hold the Portland Police Bureau accountable led her to place a measure on last November's ballot to create a new independent police oversight body. It passed overwhelmingly.

One of the few people who raised concerns about whether Hardesty's panel would be any more effective than IPR: Hull Caballero.

Last week, as part of presenting her office's proposed budget for 2021-22, Hull Caballero said she'd like to move the 14 IPR employees into a new unit called "Evaluation and Investigative Services" in 2022-23.

That group would remain in her office, unlike the new police review panel, which will be independent.

Before any discussion of the auditor's budget or the proposed new unit, Hardesty pronounced herself "disgusted" with Hull Caballero, noting the auditor had previously refused to oversee the city's new public financing for elections and had declined to continue holding administrative hearings on code violations without more city funding. Those hearings are now held by the city's Office of Management and Finance.

Hardesty cautioned Hull Caballero not to misunderstand the voter-approved 2017 charter change affirming and strengthening the independence of the auditor's office.

"When the voters told you to be independent, they didn't tell you to be arrogant," Hardesty said.

Hardesty went on to say that Hull Caballero had mischaracterized the impact on the auditor's office of previous council budget decisions and of Mayor Ted Wheeler's budget guidance for next year.

"I just find it appalling that somebody who never wants to collaborate with anyone would come in and misrepresent yourself so outrageously," Hardesty said.

She also panned Hull Caballero's proposal to move the IPR staff into a new unit, accusing the auditor of trying to "maintain a budget" even after voters decided to replace IPR with a new oversight board.

"No matter how beautifully you talk about IPR, the voters have a totally different perspective on it," Hardesty said.

Hardesty cautioned a citizen budget advisory panel not to take seriously Hull Caballero's plan to move IPR staff to a new unit.

"This unit does not exist," Hardesty said. "No one has asked for it. I don't want you to have the assumption that this new unit is anything anybody else is interested in."

Hull Caballero declined to respond to Hardesty during the work session. "The work of my office speaks for itself," she said then. "Nor do I think her comments deserve much of a response."

But in the email she sent Monday morning, the auditor did respond.

"What occurred at the conclusion of our presentation is the latest example of a pattern of conduct by Commissioner Hardesty that erodes the environment of City Council," Hull Caballero wrote to commissioners.

"Personal attacks. Ambushes. Broadsides. Shout-downs. These tactics have profound adverse effects on policy discussions and decision-making," Hull Caballero wrote. "They make people you need to hear from think twice about appearing before you. They are tactics none of you would tolerate from your own employees or those who work in your bureaus. They reflect poorly on Council as a whole."

Hull Caballero went on to say that Hardesty, who currently holds the rotating position of council president, unfairly monopolized the work session.

"By consuming the limited time we had for questions last week with a grievance-filled filibuster, mostly on unrelated topics to the issues at hand, Commissioner Hardesty effectively made sure hers was the only voice heard on the proposals," Hull Caballero wrote.

"Anyone who appears before Council should have an expectation that they will get a fair hearing and be treated with respect," she added. "That norm is no longer viable so long as any one Council member can distort the proceedings with tactics intended to shut down debate and attempt to intimidate anyone who may disagree with them. It is especially problematic when that person has the gavel as president."

In a letter to her colleagues this afternoon, Hardesty took issue with Hull Caballero's email, saying she was "frustrated" with Hull Caballero's approach to budgeting and felt the auditor had attacked her police oversight panel.

"As an elected official, I have every right to ask hard questions and express my opinion related to budget proposals as they come before council," Hardesty wrote. "I will continue to do so because that is what voters elected me to do."

In a video of the budget work session, Hull Caballero’s remarks begin at 26:55, and Hardesty’s response follows.

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