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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

He's seen enough

Last year about this time, Opie Sten mysteriously packed it in. Today it's Gary Blackmer, the Portland city auditor, doing the political Dutch act.

Ah, but their great ideas live on. A million "clean" bucks later and Amanda Fritz is on the City Council. A million bucks later and PGE wouldn't sell itself to us. A half billion bucks later and the bus mall now has train tracks on it. Municipal debt just keeps growing like a weed as the economy falters. Botched computer projects all over City Hall. No idea too goofy or impractical. And the auditor has pronounced it pretty much all peachy. At least he gave the PDC a hard time toward the end there.

So long, Gary. Go by aerial tram [rim shot]!

Comments (17)

Botched computer projects all over City Hall

Botched computer projects all over the place, not just City Hall. I personally know of at least half a dozen major failed projects (10-85 million) at some of the "most respected" firms in the Portland area. You've probably never heard of these failures because, if they are reported at all, it's buried in the back pages of the Oregonian's Business section.

The fact is that more than half of all software projects fail and for many reasons. One large project I worked on failed because of a turf battle between two vice presidents. The result: 85 million dollars down a rat hole.

I'm not a huge fan of government, but your knowledge of their failures is the result of the fact that most government entities are more open than pretty much any corporation. What the private sector has accomplished in the past 15 years in terms of its costs to the taxpayers makes government look pretty damn good.

"most government entities are more open than pretty much any corporation."

So open, in fact, that a quick google search would show that the transit mall portion of the current MAX project cost just over 200M, which is a far cry from half a billion.

"most government entities are more open than pretty much any corporation."

God, I should hope so, after all don't still work for the taxpayers or did that change?

My issue is that they have a habit of not telling you things - like how much projects (the Tram) are really going to cost. Otherwise, they'll tell it will cost 10% of the real cost until they break ground and then its too late to stop.

Any idea of who Mr Blackmer will pass his rubber stamp onto? I mean he basically got told to justify projects and make them look good so we have to have the right malleable personality for this job.

So open, in fact, that a quick google search would show that the transit mall portion of the current MAX project cost just over 200M, which is a far cry from half a billion.

Wow, only a quarter billion. Great deal. Much needed. Well worth it.

The last overall liars' budget for the MAX line that the rail tracks on the mall are all about was $495 million.

Steve, if you think private sector companies are not spending your tax money, you haven't been paying attention.

Now that corporate America has proven to be a bunch of greedy, arrogant nincompoops, we should be thankful that our elected officials are just as bad but not any worse? Now there's a standard of excellence.

When I designed websites, it was to the lowest common denominator. That meant that I designed so that even the person with the oldest, slowest system could view the site easily and quickly as well as the owner of a state of the art system. It was accessible to the widest range of users because it didn't ignore or exclude anyone. A city should consider the same approach when deciding what projects to prioritize. Which will provide the greatest benefit to the largest amount of taxpayers across the economic spectrum? These, of course, would first be infrastructure projects, not shiny "bell and whistle", "award-winning" isolated icons like the tram.

I'm still chuckling about the AIA "Unbuilt Citation Award" won by an inappropriate structure planned to replace the courtyard apartments where I live. It will likely remain unbuilt because the neighbors opposed it (although the city approveda height variance after lengthy hearings), the loan to build it is no longer available and the owner of the property is seeking to sell it.

"if you think private sector companies are not spending your tax money"

OK, I'll bite - give me an example. If you're going to bring up TARP, I'll say at the start I thought it was a good idea, but it was worthless outside of PR for the markets in execution.

My only point is that govt spends nothing but tax money and should be totally transparent with taxpayers who subsidize their Sim City projects.

TARP = Treasury Aid for Rich People

"TARP = Treasury Aid for Rich People"
Sound like a Bill McDonald line for Leno.

Gary Blackmer either has a serious health problem that he hasn't disclosed yet, or he is resigning early to give his chief lieutenant (sp?), Drummond Kahn, a very good opportunity to take over his job.

Botched computer projects happen because of slipshod management and cut corners. The engineers know what needs to be done, and how much time it will take; but the project managers say that it's too expensive, or will take too long; so you get cheap garbage with no redundancy, with certainly no thought of the future (scalar issues).

For example: I work in a corporate IS department. I recently had someone from logistics say that they wanted a couple servers out at the warehouse running a particular piece of software, and it absolutely could never go down. Well, ok that means buying expensive external disk shelves, fiber channel HBAs, and clustering licenses so that we can go with a proper high availability solution.

"How much will that cost?!"

Yeah, they were happy with the odd reboot and downtime risk all of a sudden. I was more than happy to put either one together, and document why it was chosen over the other one.

This happens all the time. In Systems Analysis, it all comes down to this:


Pick a side. You get two corners. You can't have all three.

Do you think that our new state AG would recognize the distinction between membership in a foreign corporation, the Institute of Internal Auditors, and obtaining a certification as an Internal Auditor from a state board, for which neither the state nor the city has created such a board that has jurisdiction over city auditors?

Imagine if Bernie Giusto did not have to face the governmental Oregon Department of Public Safety Standards and Training board but rather some private Hokey Pokey New York Police Morality Club that had the power to grant or deny membership to him and thereby grant or deny him an opportunity to serve in an elective public office.

Neither of the two names that have popped up to replace Gary Blackmer are CPAs subject to review by the Oregon Board of Accountancy, but rather they are members of the hokey pokey private foreign New York incorporated Institute of Internal Auditors, with a primary office in Florida. Whether either of them get a rubber stamp of approval from such private foreign corporation should be treated as wholly immaterial, at least when compared to whether or not the city auditor would place my name on the ballot . . . or refuse to do so as a member on behalf of another member.

Our chief elections officer (Gary Blackmer) and the city attorney have already engaged in a criminal act, as far as I am concerned, the would exclude them from serving in public office, elected or otherwise, for refusing to place my name on the ballot for city auditor in 2006.

If the AG were to immediately agree with me that membership in the Institute of Internal Auditors does not satisfy the city charter eligibility requirement for certification as internal auditor then this would still leave the door wide open to a CPA to file for the office of Portland City Auditor, just as I said nearly two years ago.

City council may be doing a disservice to Portland by holding a special election on May 19th 2009 for the new City Auditor. It is my concern that an election 4 months from now will create an ethical and financial barrier that will inadvertently weed out exceptional CPA's from seeking public office. The main reason is that most of the professionals qualified to legally be the new city auditor may not be able to campaign, as the bulk of most CPA's work happens during the next 3 months, aka Tax Season.

I propose that city council should appoint an interim Auditor and hold the special election in September (allowing for a runoff on the November ballot). This allows for strong candidates to mount an effective campaign and inform the citizens of Portland why we should trust them to keep our books. I feel that by rushing the election process the public is being short changed our right to audit the individual who 2 years from now will be on the ballot as the incumbent Auditor.

I am confident Mayor Adams will advocate, and support, a new auditor implementing performance audits across city agencies. Including the PDC.

How's that for a departure from the planet?

pdxnag, you have a serious case of internal auditor envy. If the CPA profession is so great, why did Arthur Andersen get sued out of existence? Why was it an internal auditor, not an outside CPA, who brought Enron's frauds to light? If CPA firms are so great, why have so many supposedly healthy US corporations developed serious financial problems that were not identified and broadcast as a result of the CPAs' audits?

Did you realize, pdxnag, that the CIA exam is two days long? Or that the kind of CPA who focuses on tax work is not likely to be interested in doing audit work, as that is a completely different ball game?

Just what criminal act do you think Blackmer and AG committed? And how do you know that the Oregon Board of Accountancy is any less hokey than the Institute of Internal Auditors is?

The AG's prosecutorial discretion is too wide for me to fight. The city attorney however can be called to account before the state bar for criminal conduct even after the statute of limitations has lapsed.

The legal analysis is little different than if the charter were amended so as to require as a precondition for obtaining ballot access that any candidate for elective office in Portland must be a member of the private Portland City Club. I trust that you would recognize this as absurd.

The state, or even the city, could have tried to require that someone pass the test that is prepared by the Institute of Internal Auditors, for all auditor candidates regardless of any other title they my hold. The city has not done so, instead demanding certification by the foreign private corporation which is coupled with membership. A member would lose their certification if they are expelled from the organization for any reason, and under the city charter must then also be expelled from public office.

Look up, and read, the recent New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres case. The plaintiff was not demanding ballot access (which they could obtain) but was trying to demand the endorsement of a private organization with free speech rights of their own. This distinction between private and public is critical. The power given by the city of Portland to the private Institute of Internal Auditors is not merely that of the power to nominate one or more candidates but the power to exclude from the ballot anyone other than a CPA or CMA that is not a member of their organization. This is an impermissible burden on my rights. My protected rights do not include any opportunity, under Lopez Torres, for me or the city or a court to meddle in the internal affairs of the Institute of Internal Auditors so as to obtain for me their certification as a member.

As I noted in my protest letter to the city in 2006 my training is different than that of the siting auditor and a DA would certainly take note of it were I ever accused of official misconduct and tried to assert that I relied on the advice of counsel as a way of pleading ignorance and lack of mens rea. Our city attorney should not be afforded such a free ride either.

Jasun, if the AG were to accept my argument then it would necessarily follow that Gary Blackmer should immediately be expelled from his position because he is unqualified today. This would trigger the requirement to hold an election, for a CPA, within 90 days of the vacancy, in early April. It would also disqualify me because I am not a CPA.

I would prefer that the City Council entertain the option of appointing a CPA as early as next Wednesday.

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