Portland City Council member Amanda Fritz talks a lot about the money she’s saved the city. It’s a central theme in her pitch for a second term on the council.
In a recent campaign mailer, Fritz highlights some of the places she’s been able to earn her keep -- such as when she oversaw the Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management (now the office for Community Technology). "Saving money with tough audits," the mailer reads. "Amanda Fritz oversaw an audit that won the city $2 million in franchise fees."
Any time a politician takes credit for an audit we get a little suspicious -- often they’re not directly involved in the process. So we decided to check this one out.
We called Fritz’s policy adviser, Tim Crail, who told us the audit in question was on XO Communications Services. As Crail explained it, an audit of the city’s contract with the company revealed that it had paid none of the franchise fees due to the city for nearly a decade. The city was owed nearly $2.5 million.
Initially the city was poised to settle for some $1.3 million, he said, but Fritz, who oversaw the office at the time, "did not want to settle" and pushed to recoup the full amount. Eventually, the city succeeded in doing just that. Crail forwarded us an email that backed up this version of events.
We also pulled a copy of the agenda item that approved final settlement with the city’s e-file document archive. It backed up the $2.44 million figure that we’d received from Crail. But it also raised a few questions for us.
The item showed a timeline for the audit and eventual settlement that began well before Fritz was in office. The initial audit took place in 2006 and was further bolstered by further investigation in 2007. Fritz didn’t take office until 2008.
To be sure, that was the year that negotiations toward a settlement began in earnest.
It’s probably also worth noting that even if Fritz had been the commissioner in charge of the bureau when it began, she would not have been involved all that much in it.
We spoke with Mary Beth Henry, the manager for Community Technology, and she explained that most audits are done according to a routine schedule, usually a three- or five-year cycle.
It’s not until a company is "not responding to our information requests and we begin to suspect they're not paying the right amount" that the office will go to the commissioner in charge for permission to litigate.
That’s around the time Fritz became involved. The city granted permission to litigate and, according to the agenda item, "negotiations resumed, and the parties … agreed to settle the issues for the full amount of past due principal and interest."
In her mailer, Fritz said that she "oversaw an audit that won the city $2 million in franchise fees." Indeed, while she oversaw the Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management, the city settled a franchise dispute worth nearly $2.5 million. Still, some clarification is necessary -- namely that the audit began well before she was in office and also that the city was poised to get $1.3 million of the amount due before she intervened. She did push to get more than initially offered, but it’s not as though the city would have left empty-handed otherwise.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Interview with Mary Beth Henry, the manager for Community Technology, Oct. 8, 2012
Interview with Tim Crail, policy adviser to Amanda Fritz, Oct. 5, 2012
E-mail from Tim Crail, policy adviser to Amanda Fritz, May 26, 2009
City Council agenda item, Dec. 10, 2009
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