Join us as we bid adieu to one of our own. Gary Blackmer, outgoing Director of the Oregon Audits Division, has been in the field for over 30 years. On December 31st he will leave auditing behind to pursue his true calling: terrorizing fish populations across the Northwest (and beyond). We sat down with him to gather a few nuggets of wisdom, trick him into sharing the location of his favorite secret fishing hole, and gently prod him to stop by and say hi once in a while.
Speaking of fishing spots, where is your favorite spot?
You think I’m gonna tell you that? No way! You’ll have to find me out there. I’ll give you a hint, though. There’s water, trees, and fish.
But really, fishing is also an excuse to travel around and see beautiful Oregon.
What led you to auditing, and why did you stay?
I’ve always enjoyed analysis. Years ago I worked in the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Department in planning and research, and we were audited by the Multnomah County Auditor. They were asking the kinds of questions that I myself asked and was interested in learning the answers to. I realized that I could be an analyst in many fields other than law enforcement. That realization, and pursuing auditing later, opened many doors.
New auditors entering the field might hear a little about your approach to auditing, otherwise called ‘auditing by the Code of the Samurai.’ What does that mean to you?
The best won battle happens without shedding blood. We have power as auditors, but need to use it carefully. Some of the elements of the Code are veracity and integrity- these come naturally to us, and are essentially written into our standards.
You know, Davy Crockett also said, “Make sure you’re right, then go ahead.” So you could follow the Code, or you could follow Davy Crockett.
After 30 years, you’ve worked on many, many audits. Can you tell us about a few that are particularly memorable, or have had lasting impacts?
I’ve seen both. Going sideways here for a second; few understand how difficult and successful audits are and can be, apart from auditors. Most people, even in the agencies we work with, don’t really understand the challenges going in to an audit or what exactly it is we do. Agencies are often tense and uncertain about us the first time we go through an audit with them. As the relationship builds, over time they usually learn to trust our input and judgment and become much more welcoming.
One of the first audits I worked on in the City of Portland Audits office in the late 80’s was an audit of the Portland Police Bureau. That audit established our office as a force to be reckoned with, and had lasting impacts on the agency. Another audit that comes to mind, when I worked with Multnomah County, focused on foster care. That one had a big impact as well. Here at OAD, the TANF audit we released a few years back helped frame the issue for legislators and program heads, which helped them plan out a future direction for TANF in Oregon.
Any big plans for 2016?
I’ll have to figure out how to taper out of auditing. That’ll be my biggest challenge in the coming year. I also foresee some travel, some fishing, time with friends, some home improvement… I have a list of home improvement projects already, though I’ve been told by my wife that there is another whole list out there… Making sure we don’t get water in the basement will be a priority. I have this spread that goes directly onto the concrete that is supposed to help with leaks- it has the same texture as feta cheese. It should only take about a day to do. I might put it off for a while…
How scared are the fish?
Not that frightened! I haven’t had good luck lately when it comes to fishing. Either they’re getting smarter, or I’m getting worse. I am looking forward to improving my luck with some weekday fishing, though. There are a few spots I’d like to return to out in Eastern Oregon- the Imnaha river, North Powder river, the Owyhee… I may venture out to Montana and the state of Washington as well. Maybe even British Columbia!
Perhaps the fish should be afraid.
Any final thoughts or words of advice for those of us still in the trenches?
I have huge confidence in everybody to continue the work we’ve been doing. There is a huge need for what we do. We produce good recommendations, and should stay the course.
Something OAD might consider for the future would be more open and effective communication about what we do, especially to the Legislature. People are surprised when they hear that we get 75-80% compliance on most of our audit recommendations- they often assume it is much lower than that, but agencies usually act on what we recommend.
We could design an instructional approach to educating people about what it is we do, both inside and outside of the office. This could help newer auditors learn to more quickly recognize and develop potential auditable topics. It could also improve the quality of the requests that we get from the Legislature. Not everything can be solved with an audit. Legislators already go through some training to familiarize themselves with the legislative process- if we were able to let JLAC and the legislators know more about what we can and cannot do, and what our follow-up practices are, we could see some improvement in how we work with the Legislature.
This is a fascinating profession. It calls on all of your skills- personal, analytical, writing, etc- to succeed at it, and it can be very, very satisfying. It’s been a great run.
Want to wish Gary farewell in person, but don’t work in the OAD office? You’re in luck! The Audits Staff Fund will be hosting an open house fare-thee-well on Tuesday, December 22nd. We’ll be celebrating Gary’s career and mourning his departure from 2:30-4pm in Basement A of the Public Service Building, 255 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR.
Bird photo courtesy of © Carol Afshar | Dreamstime Stock Photos