Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown told a Chamber of Medford/Jackson County Forum audience she thinks taxpayers get a pretty good bargain when it comes to her office.
The role she plays in Oregon is handled by three people — the lieutenant governor, chief elections officer and state auditor — in Washington state.
She addressed her work with corporations and audits during the Monday gathering at Rogue Valley Country Club.
Brown said her auditing role, overseeing a crew of 70 auditors, is unique among the nation's secretaries of state. Her office audits fiscal transactions, informational technology and agency performance.
"We focus on the alligators," she said, "not the mosquitoes — the people in the programs that matter and have huge importance to the state, both financially and in terms of people being at risk."
One audit exposed "irresponsible" expenditures by the Commission for the Blind, a small state agency designed to integrate visually impaired people into society.
"It's a great mission and really important work," Brown said. "Unfortunately, it was not being executed very well. We found a pattern of fiscal irresponsibility. One example that offended me involved a bicycle trip to the San Juans. First of all, the trip didn't just pay for the clients, but paid for family and friends as well. We also questioned why they drove to Washington when we can take perfectly beautiful bike rides in the state of Oregon, which Cycle Oregon has clearly demonstrated.
"Our audit was able to determine the cause of the irresponsible spending was that volunteer commissioners were not adequately supervising the staff."
She said it was an important finding because of the enormous amount of time citizen volunteers spend on state boards and commissions.
"They play an important role in decisions made, and provide voices from all over the state into policy making," Brown said. "Clearly we need to make sure when commissioners are overseeing a staff that those taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely and that they are being held accountable and that's not what was happening."
In response to an audience question about interaction between volunteer boards and commissions, and state staff, she said until recently there was no head count of how many commissions and boards the Legislature had put into place.
"When we audited all of Oregon boards and commissions, we didn't know the exact number of boards and commissions currently existing in Oregon," Brown said. "Since then, the governor's office has worked to ensure two things: No. 1, providing an actual list of boards and commissions, and No. 2, that the list is available on websites."
She said her agency also called for a higher level of transparency in the work commissions do, making sure public notices and minutes are made accessible to the public.
Brown said she wants to develop a "help button" for startup businesses.
"Usually when you call government agencies on the phone, you don't get a real person," she said. "I want small businesses in Oregon that are just getting started, to be able to pick up the phone and call us when they are struggling with a particular government agency or particular regulation and make sure that they get the assistance they need.
"We're also hoping to partner with the Small Business Development Centers and with the governor's regional solutions teams to continue to ensure that businesses not only survive in Oregon but that they thrive."