Oregon county paid $206,000 for questionable cost-savings study to get common sense suggestions

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Last year, the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners approved hiring a consulting firm that would give them helpful suggestions about how to streamline county operations. Multnomah is home to Portland and is Oregon’s most populous county.

After struggling to close last year’s $36.5 million budget gap, county commissions are questioning whether a $138,000 initial report had any value at all, and are upset after County Chairman Jeff Cogen made an end run around them to order up more work from the consulting firm.

The initial cost-savings study was prepared by the Coraggio Group of Portland, and authorized by the county board while the previous chairman, Ted Wheeler, was in office.  The intent of the project was to find ways to make county operations run more efficiently and cheaply. The project was supervised by the county’s chief operating officer, Jana McLellan.

Two commissioners, Deborah Kafoury and Diane McKeel, were interviewed by The Oregonian and said that they had to fight for information that was contained in the report. Kafouury said that she asked for the completed report in the spring, titled “Business Process Engineering”, but wasn’t allowed to see it until six months later. In October, the night before a presentation was made by Coraggio to the board on the report, copies were given to the board members.

Commissioners Kafoury, McKeel and Barbara Willer all said the report was hard to understand, and that providing it at the very last minute prevented them from finding which suggestions might be helpful that were buried within the thick binders they were provided.

After the October briefing, Cogen unilaterally decided to pay the consultants another $68,000 for more work, even though the other commissioners were unhappy with the first effort. Cogen used $68,000 from an unfilled staff position to order up a new study, so he wouldn’t have to go back to the other commissioners for a vote.

Some of the board members expressed dismay over the process and the work product. Even proponents McLellan and Cogan couldn’t point to any changes in county offices that were made as a result of the consultant’s recommendations.

Last week Kafoury commented on the matter saying “I didn’t feel we’d gotten our money’s worth. Nobody can tell you if it will impact a single person in Multnomah County.”

After committing a total of about $206,000 to Coraggio for its expert opinion, the suggestions so far include combining redundant human resource departments, eliminating some unnecessary managers and holding on to county vehicles a bit longer.

The Oregonian

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