Auditor’s Office reveals findings of second County Ethical Culture survey

March 21, 2019

In one of her first major reports as Multnomah County’s newly-elected auditor, Jennifer McGuirk shared the results of the second County Ethical Culture Survey at the March 21 board meeting. 

Auditor Jennifer McGuirk (right) briefs the Board of County Commissioners on the results of the County Ethical Culture Survey.

The Auditor’s Office is charged with ensuring efficiency, transparency and accountability in Multnomah County government. The survey provides County leaders with information on strengths and areas for improvement in the County’s ethical culture. The Auditor’s Office began surveying all County employees in November 2018. About 40 percent of the County’s workforce responded.

With more than 2,400 County employees surveyed, the report found the County’s ethical culture is strong. Most respondents agreed that expectations for ethical behavior are clear and they feel respected in their positions. But more can be done to improve morale among Department of Community Justice employees, respondents said.

“This is a rare opportunity for us to take the pulse of what our staff are thinking and how they perceive our culture,” Auditor McGuirk said. “We’re highlighting these comments to show that people care about these issues and experience things differently.”

Nearly all employees agreed that they have a duty to treat members of the public equally. The vast majority of employees likewise said their supervisors promote ethical standards. But a number of employees expressed concerns related to reporting ethical issues and workforce equity.

The results come at a time in which the Chair is promoting efforts to strengthen workforce equity at the County. Throughout 2018 and 2019, the County has worked to foster a culture of safety, trust and belonging through its Workforce Equity Strategic Plan. As part of the plan, the County is expected to address structural and policy barriers to improve equity in the workplace.

Based on the findings of the survey, the report recommended strengthening the County’s protected class complaint process, training managers to better handle staff complaints, taking additional steps to prevent retaliation, strengthening the County’s Code of Ethics, and following change management practices to improve the culture at DCJ.

In a March 13 response letter to the Auditor’s Office, Chair Deborah Kafoury reaffirmed her dedication to ensuring an ethical culture throughout the County. “I remain committed to transforming policy and practice at Multnomah County and strengthening the County’s culture to better reflect our values around inclusion, respect, ethical behavior, and equitable treatment,” the letter read. “The recommendations included in the survey integrate with, and add value to, our current efforts.”

Interim DCJ Director Erika Preuitt also submitted response, acknowledging the department “has had a history of challenges that have existed prior to the leadership changes mentioned above. . . . For the past eight months, our current leadership team has been working to find meaningful ways to be available to staff to express their ideas and concerns.”

In the near future, the County is expected to adopt an independent complaints unit to handle employees’ concerns. Leaders are also in the midst of developing higher standards among managers for responding to work complaints.  

The Auditor’s Office also called on employees and County residents to report fraud, abuse, and misuse of County resources through the Good Government Hotline. People can make anonymous reports to the Hotline online or by dialing 1-888-289-6839.

“An ethical culture is a key feature of a just and equitable organization,” Chair Deborah Kafoury said. “There’s no way we can serve our employees and serve our community unless there is trust and an understanding of what’s expected.”