Jennifer McGuirk – Candidate Survey 2022

Jennifer McGuirk

Jennifer McGuirk

Jennifer McGuirk
Candidate for Multnomah County Auditor

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Question One – People with lived experience of mental illness, addiction, alcoholism, and or trauma are under-represented in public office. What is your personal experience with these illnesses?

I appreciate this question because people with these lived experiences can — and do — successfully serve in public office. I have had close relationships with people with substance use disorders, primarily alcoholism. I am a trauma survivor, and I live with mental health conditions including a panic disorder.

Question Two – Oregon ranks at the bottom of states in a well-regarded national survey of access to public treatment services for mental illness, addiction and alcoholism. What can you in office do to change this?

In my role as Multnomah County Auditor, I am not a policy maker. My office strives to ensure accountable, transparent, and equitable county government by auditing how well programs are operating and recommending improvements. I’m dedicated to producing audits that include people with lived experience of the issues we audit; their perspectives are essential to improving systems. To connect with people who receive county services, my office uses an equity lens and trauma-informed approaches in our work.

When I took office in 2019, an audit of mental health services for adults with serious persistent mental health conditions was in process. We are following up on that audit’s recommendations, including that the county Health Department report on the accessibility of key programs.

In contrast to that audit, the ones I oversee from start to finish have a greater focus on including people who receive services. Future audits would center people’s experiences with county mental health services to examine, for example, the extent to which people with lived experience of mental illness, addiction, and alcoholism are involved in shaping public treatment services. There is no shortage of related issues that my office could audit, but my resources are limited for doing so. I am advocating for funding to establish subject-matter audit teams, including health-focused and social services-focused teams. These teams would enable my office to continually audit health and social services issues.

Question Three – In that same national survey, Oregon ranks at the top for prevalence of mental illness, addiction and alcoholism. What can you in office do to change this?

As Multnomah County Auditor, I can support accountability and transparency of county operations related to this statistic. For example, my office could learn from community and county experts to assess the approaches being taken in Multnomah County and how they compare to those used in states with lower prevalence of these conditions. While this information might be well known by experts and advocates, having the knowledge captured in an audit can be helpful. This is because my office can issue fact-based recommendations that county departments are required to respond to, and we will follow up to maintain the pressure that can be needed to ensure change.

Question Four – A natural consequence of lack of access to treatments and high prevalence of mental illness, addiction and alcoholism is chronic homelessness. Why isn’t Portland’s strategy to reduce homelessness working and what could you do in office to change that?

I will answer this question by talking about my office’s recent work; as Multnomah County Auditor, I don’t comment on policymaker strategies outside of my office’s audits. I’m concerned about strategy monitoring and reporting. In the fall of 2021, my office found that the Joint Office of Homeless Services had reported, at least in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, the date a person enrolled in a permanent housing program as the date the person entered housing. But not everyone who enrolls in a program enters housing. As a result, I launched an audit of the Joint Office’s information systems and public reporting. It’s important that county government maintains reliable data and accurately reports on it so that the public can have better insight into what is working, what isn’t, and why.

Question Five – In 2015 the US DOJ found the Portland Police Bureau has a pattern and practice of harming people with mental illness. There’s little data to show that pattern and practice has changed, and no data to show other metro area police bureaus are any different. How would you in office engage with this problem?

While the Portland Police Bureau is outside of my authority as Multnomah County Auditor, the County Sheriff’s and District Attorney’s Offices are in my jurisdiction. My office is writing a report on our county jail conditions audit, and will publish it this spring. We will continue to shine a light on how these offices operate. Also, I’m advocating for funding to establish subject-matter audit teams, including a public safety-focused team. Having these teams will support improved accountability because my office will provide more frequent oversight.