News

Former El Paso Non-Profit Leader Involved In Portland Police Oversight Controversy

After a contentious city council meeting, the city’s auditor warned that neither she nor her staff will appear before city council again. The auditor decried “personal attacks” from a council member during the recent budget work session where policy oversight was discussed.

In January 2015, Mary Hull Caballero was sworn in as Portland’s city auditor. The Portland city auditor is an election position. She was reelected in 2018. Hull Caballero, who was previously a newspaper reporter and the director of the Community Scholars in El Paso, succeeded LeVonne Griffin-Valade who did not run for a third term. Hull Caballero ran uncontested for the position. [1] Caballero is married to Raymond C. Caballero, the former controversial mayor of El Paso who was elected in 2001 and served one term.

According to her biography in Portland’s website, she previously worked as a performance auditor at Metro Regional Government in Portland and the Oregon Department of Transportation. Prior to entering the auditing field, Mary co-founded and managed a public policy leadership development organization, El Paso’s Community Scholars (and was a newspaper reporter. She holds a master’s degree in Public Policy and Management from Carnegie Mellon University. She received her undergraduate degree in Communication from Lewis and Clark College. She is a Certified Internal Auditor and a Certified Government Auditing Professional, according to her official profile.

According to The Oregonian, (See note 1 below) Hull Caballero grew up in Albany and graduated from Lewis & Clark College. She worked for about a decade at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the Texas Lawyer magazine. She then worked for Community Scholars in El Paso. [1]

On March 11, 2021, the Portland City Council held a work session. The virtual meeting became contentious between commissioner JoAnn Hardesty and Mary Hull Caballero over Hull Caballero’s budget presentation that sought to increase her department’s budget instead of reducing it by 5% as was requested of all city departments with 30 or more employees. At the center of the controversy is that 82% of the Portland voters had approved an independent community police oversight be created and the existing one disbanded. [3]

The disbandment of the existing Independent Police Review (IPR) office that reports to Hull Caballero, according to The Oregonian, was at the center of the controversy. Hardesty’s “belief that IPR” was “ineffective” in holding Portland police accountable led her to put a measure in the November 2020 ballot to create a new police oversight agency. [2] It passed with 83% of the vote. [3]

Hull Caballero’s proposal of moving the 14 employees of the existing Independent Police Review into a new unit named the Evaluation and Investigative Services under Hull Caballero’s office triggered the acrimonious exchange. [2] The proposed unit under the auditor’s office prompted Hull Caballero to request a budget increase rather than submitting a 5% budget reduction as requested of other departments. Hardesty’s position is that voters do not trust the IPR and want it replaced with an independent policy oversight unit.

After the meeting, Hull Caballero sent an email to Portland’s mayor and commissioners. In her email, Hull Caballero defended her budget presentation as bringing “two issues to your attention publicly, offer solutions, and discuss them with you and the community advisors.” Hull Caballero accused Hardesty of “personal attacks,” “ambushes,” “broadsides,” and “shout-downs”. Hull Caballero closed her email to the city council by saying that she and her staff will no longer appear before city council until Hull Caballero and her staff “understand the rules of engagement.” [4]

Hardesty responded with a letter to Hull Caballero’s email. In her letter, Hardesty wrote that instead of proposing a 5% budget cut “due to the loss of revenue the city has experienced because of the COVID-19 pandemic,” that all departments “with more than 30 employees” were asked to submit, Hull Caballero had, instead, “requested funding for a new team of investigators that was never asked for from council nor Portlanders at large.” [3]

Hardesty added that her “frustration is that the Auditor (Hull Caballero) chose to spend time attacking the ballot measure that 82% of Portland voters approved to create a new system of independent community police oversight.” [3] Hardesty accused Hull Caballero of forbidding her “employees from being a part of the discussion for developing and transitioning” to the new police oversight board. [3]

In her letter, Hardesty closes by writing that she “did not shout,” nor “interrupt” Hull Caballero during her presentation and that she is used to those “kinds of harmful characterizations as the first Black woman ever elected to the Portland City Council.” [3]

At issue is what to do with the director and 11 investigators in the Independent Police Review office after the voters approved an independent police oversight entity. Hull Caballero proposed in January 2021, that the department, which currently receives complaints against the police department be absorbed into her department. She would use it to “investigate citywide programs and policies.” [5] The formation of the new voter-approved police investigators is still under development. To absorb the existing employees of the IPR, Hull Caballero asked for $650,000 for her budget, plus another $1.89 million for operations through June 30, 2021, instead of offering the requested 5% cut in her budget. [5]

Years of Tension Between Hull Caballero And Portland City Council

Although Hull Caballero’s office is independently elected, the Oregon city council controls her budget. Among the tension between her office and city council is the “city’s hearings office, a quasi-judicial function that resolves disputes between Portlanders and city government over issues as code violations, land use decisions and towed vehicles.” [6] That office has been housed in Hull Caballero’s offices since 1991, although it is not part of the duties assigned to her office by the city charter. [6]

For about five-years, Hull Caballero has argued that city council does not adequately fund the hearings office. On June 30, 2020, Hull Caballero ordered city council to relocate the office out of her department. City council refused by adopting a budget that kept the hearing office in Hull Caballero’s department. [6]

The Community Scholars

On July 30, 1999, the non-profit Community Scholars published a report researched and written by high school students alleging that El Paso’s four largest banks were not “responsive to the capital needs of small businesses” in El Paso. The director of the nonprofit was Mary Hull Caballero. [7] Community Scholars was started by her and Eliot Shapleigh. The student research group created several research papers, some of which, have been used to make public policy decisions on El Paso.

Mary Hull Caballero’s husband, Ray Caballero, used one of the student’s reports to file a lawsuit against four banks for their decision not to fundraise for Caballero’s non-profit that included the Community Scholars, whose research alleged that the national banks in El Paso were not doing enough for the local economy. Ray Caballero lost the lawsuit. Read more about the Community Scholars by following this link.

Note: The Oregonian exposed Robert “Bob” Jones’ criminal behavior at NCED in 2006 that led to his incarceration on federal charges in 2011.

Footnotes:

  1. Andrew Theen, “Portland’s new city auditor, Mary Hull Caballero talks equity: Portland City Hall Roundup,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, January 10, 2019.
  2. Nigel Jaquiss, “After Contentious Budget Session, Auditor Warns Neither She Nor Staff Will Appear Before City Council Again,” Willamette Week, March 15, 2021.
  3. Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, City of Portland Letter to Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Dan Ryan, Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps, March 15, 2021.
  4. Mary Hull Caballero email to Mayor Ted Wheeler and commissioners Dan Ryan, Carmen Rubio and Mingus Mapps, subject: “Concerns about Council environment,” March 15, 2021.
  5. Maxine Bernstein, “Portland city auditor proposes halting Independent Police Review by July 2022, absorbing staff into new division,” The Oregonian/OregonLive, January 29, 2021.
  6. Nigel Jaquiss, “The City Auditor and City Council Are at a Standoff on the City Hearings Office,” Willamette Week, May 8, 2020.
  7. Community Scholars Senior Interns 1999 Report “Four Prominent Banks in El Paso: Do They Invest In Local Economy At Rates Comparable To Other Markets? Are They Responsive to the Capital Needs of Small Business?,” July 30, 1999.

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