Updated: May 1
Updated: Apr. 24, 2022, 6:31 a.m. | Published: Apr. 24, 2022, 6:30 a.m. | oregonlive.com
Simone Rede, a principal management auditor with Metro, is running for Portland city auditor.
Elected officials love to talk about accountability in the abstract, but when it comes to following through, there are few who deliver like a government auditor. Oregon is fortunate to have a strong corps of auditors on all levels of government who do the vital work of examining public programs, measuring their effectiveness and offering recommendations where needed – and laying it out the public to see as well.
In Portland, the decision by two-term auditor Mary Hull Caballero to not run for re-election has generated a rare contested race between Simone Rede, a principal management auditor for Metro, and Brian Setzler, a CPA who runs his own consulting firm. (Rede is also the daughter of a longtime Oregonian reporter/editor who left the paper in 2015.)
Based on work experience and interviews, the choice is clear. Voters should elect Rede, whose years of state and regional governmental auditing and thorough understanding of the auditor’s role and responsibilities would best serve Portland.
Rede, 39, is credentialed both as a certified internal auditor and certified government auditing professional and worked for two years at the Oregon Secretary of State’s auditing division before joining Metro in 2015. There, she has helped produce audits on a wide variety of topics including the Oregon Zoo, Metro’s diversity and equity strategy and the agency’s early administration of the affordable housing bond. The weaknesses that Rede and the other auditors found in examining Metro’s preparations for the bond program concerned Metro Auditor Brian Evans enough to issue a letter months before the audit was complete to urge the regional governmental agency to shore up some of its practices.
Rede is a stronger choice for more reasons than her experience, however. She lays out a clearer vision for making the office more accessible to the public, whether it’s in helping people understand how to run for office to giving residents a voice in the issues they want audited. She also recognizes that maintaining integrity and impartiality is non-negotiable for an auditor who values public trust.
Her opponent, Setzler, brings a long history as a certified public accountant, but openly acknowledges that it has been many years since he has engaged in auditing work that focused on financial verification, not on program effectiveness. While his skills and experience certainly can translate into the auditor role, he failed to show much familiarity with many of the office’s responsibilities, in two interviews and on his campaign website.
For example, when asked if he had any priorities for auditor responsibilities outside of audits, he said he would like to establish a fraud hotline for city employees to be able to report concerns. But the auditor’s office already has one, which is open to anyone inside or outside city employment. Also, Setzler’s website notes his interest in expanding the Small Donor Elections program – Portland’s campaign finance system that provides a 9-to-1 match of public money to those who meet certain qualifications. However, the auditor’s office has never managed that program – it falls under the purview of the commissioner of public utilities, who currently is Commissioner Carmen Rubio. When asked about the discrepancy in a follow-up call with the editorial board, he clarified that he doesn’t think the program needs to be expanded except for perhaps broadening public awareness of it. He also noted that he doesn’t write or read everything on his campaign website.
Of greater concern is his willingness to advocate for specific policies that might come under examination by the auditor’s office. He supports a “housing first” strategy for addressing homelessness, which prioritizes using resources to place people in permanent housing. But how to address homelessness, whether it’s by continuing the housing-first approach or shifting to fund more temporary shelters is a policy question for City Council. Considering that Setzler believes an audit of the effectiveness of the city’s homeless strategies should be done, his support for pursuing a specific approach would cast the objectivity or thoroughness of an audit in question.
Certainly, Rede’s campaign has had its flaws. A Willamette Week story noted that she will likely be fined for late filings of nearly $50,000 in campaign contributions to the Oregon Secretary of State’s office. Rede explained that a volunteer treasurer for her campaign had made the required filings to the city but neglected to also send them to the state. When Rede discovered the error, she filed the documents and has since hired a professional treasurer to handle the filings. It’s an unfortunate and embarrassing mistake. But it shouldn’t be a fatal one for a first-time candidate who has otherwise shown that she’s the one for the job.