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POL Government Elected Officials Auditor Griffin-Valade Divisions Ombudsman Reports Formal Investigations
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Office of the Ombudsman
1221 SW 4th Ave, Rm 320
Portland, OR 97204
phone: 503-823-0144
fax: 503-823-3530
 

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Ombudsman's Investigation Report, Case # 01-131

Ombudsman's Investigation

Case Number: 01-131
Complaint:
 
A complaint was received alleging that a former City employee was selling City Property on an Internet auction site, without City authorization. The property was described as brochures, coffee mugs, and cast metal City seals.
 
References:
 
PCC 1.03.020 - Trust (avoiding even the appearance of impropriety)
PCC 3.54 - Loss Control and Prevention (loss control component)
PCC 4.01.030 G.11. - Administrative Policies (prohibited activities)
PCC 5.36.010 C. - Unusable Property (bureau director determination)
PCC 5.36.035 A. - Lost or Stolen Property (reporting to Accounting Division)
General Citywide Policy - City Resources - II.C.1 (inappropriate use of resources)
replaced by:
HR Admin Rules 4.9, Use of City Resources (Effective 4/5/02)
City Charter Sec. 2-509(c) - Auditor shall be Custodian of City's Seal

Investigation:
 
The Office of the Ombudsman declined to investigate, based on jurisdictional grounds, the actions of the former City employee who was selling items since the individual no longer worked for the City of Portland. This office accepted the case for investigation to determine whether Bureau where the employee had worked took the appropriate measures to address the complaint and protect City property. The office requested that the Bureau of General Services investigate the matter and take appropriate measures.
 
The Bureau of General Services and the Division of Facilities Management reviewed the complaint. They determined that the City Seals were of significant worth to investigate.
 
This investigation, however, was hampered by two factors. The former employee had not left the City on good terms and she was, in fact, in the process of moving to another state. The Bureau asked another ex-employee who had been the Bureau's HR manager and with whom a relationship of trust had been maintained with the ex-employee to make inquiries regarding the Internet sales. This step was made for two reasons. First, they believed questions posed by this friend would be more effective in obtaining information and second, the bureau was not sure about the current address or phone number for the ex-employee.
 
The response received was that the items were either given to the employee or were products taken to include in a "personal employment portfolio". That was found acceptable with the exception of the City Seals. The former employee indicated to the friend that there were some "small City Seals" that were "discarded in the renovation process" of City Hall. This was inconsistent with how the Internet auction site described the "Official City Seal". The auction site described the seals as being 9 ½" in circumference and weighing 3 ½ lbs. (The size and weight measures appear inconsistent and may mean that the seal is 9½" in diameter.) A photograph of the City Seal was available and a copy was printed for the record.
 
The Bureau had no record or inventory of these items. The facility manager and other facility staff had no recollection of City seals being discarded as part of the renovation process and there was no record of new seals being purchased as part of the renovation process. During the renovation, the ex-employee was in charge of investigating the inclusion of a gift shop in the renovated historic City Hall. In this capacity, she received solicitations from vendors who fabricated possible items to be considered for possible sale in a gift shop. These vendors would also have been a possible source of these city seals. The Bureau has no records about these "samples" or if this was the possible source for the items.
 
The Bureau attempted to reach the employee by phone and e-mail to seek further information and clarification regarding the seals. The employee apparently re-located to another region of the nation and did not respond to the e-mail address or phone number on file. The Bureau attempted to search for the employee using Internet search methods, but these also proved ineffective.
 
Further information on the number of items offered for sale on the auction site was not available from the auction site company without first obtaining a subpoena. The Bureau wrote a letter to the former employee at the address on file with the Bureau on February 14, 2002, asking for information on the City items offered for sale, particularly the City Seals. By the end of March, the Bureau indicated that they had not received a response and did not expect the employee to respond. There was no indication that the Bureau intended to take any further action on the case.
Findings & Conclusions:
 
The complaint was found to be Partially Justified. The Bureau found that the coffee mugs and City Hall brochures being offered for sale could be reasonably considered the property of the former employee. The Office of the Ombudsman concurs with this conclusion. However, City policy (HR 4.9) prohibits an employee from acquiring City resources, "regardless of the item's value and/or the City's intent to retain", unless authorized. The portion of the complaint concerning the City Seals was found to be justified. The Bureau has no documentation authorizing the City Seals to be given to the employee based on the approval of a bureau director under the disposal of unusable property provisions of PCC 5.36.010 C. Nor was there any record of City seals being lost, discarded or replaced. Without documentation regarding the seals, it was not possible to report to the Accounting Division of the loss under PCC 5.36.035 A. - Lost or Stolen Property. Further, Charter section 2-509(c) states that "The Auditor shall be the custodian of the City's seal," which provides the City with some protections regarding its proper use.
 
The Bureau's efforts prompted the employee to remove the items from the Internet auction. However, its investigation failed to establish conclusively how many of the City Seals the employee had acquired, how they were acquired, how many were sold, and how many remained. Because the individual no longer worked for the City and, according to the Bureau, moved out of state and was unresponsive to the inquiry, the Bureau was unable to accurately account for, or recover the property.

Recommendations:
 
The Bureau should consider new policies or enhance existing policies regarding lost or stolen City property that will clearly describe how such incidents will be reported and investigated. Because General Services is the caretaker for the majority of City assets, it should review and revise City Policies pertaining to the removal and disposal of City Property. To increase awareness, these policies should be formalized and included in the new "Portland Policy Documents." While the value of City Property in this case is minimal, it points out the need to improve policies and procedures to avoid more significant losses.

Outcomes:
 
The Bureau recognized the need to review policies and procedures relating to City Property, and indicated a commitment to make modifications or enhancements as necessary.
 
Date: April 24, 2002