Does the city manage your tax dollars well? What performance audits should the Berkeley city auditor’s office conduct next year? Should the auditors set up a confidential ethics line or whistleblower hotline for employees? These are some questions I’d like you to help me answer.
Resident survey results
A recent poll of Berkeley residents revealed that, although 75 percent of respondents thought Berkeley was doing a good or excellent job of providing city services, only 41 percent thought the city was doing a good or excellent job at managing taxpayer dollars. The polling firm reported that this kind of difference was fairly typical in other cities, but that Berkeley was actually rated slightly higher than most on the fiscal side.
Why was Berkeley’s fiscal management rated comparatively highly? Was this because of recent good press about the city’s bond rating (in the top 5 percent of cities nationally)? Was it because of the negative press about other local governments, such as one city’s possible bankruptcy, another’s payroll problems, and a neighboring county’s pension crisis?
Compliments, complaints, and audit ideas
If you believe the city is doing a good job, I’d like to hear from you and about anything specific you have seen that confirms it. If your opinion is that there is waste and inefficiency, I’d like to hear specifics about what you have seen that can be improved. In particular, I’d like your ideas about what we should be auditing in the new fiscal year that will begin July 1.
Employee fraud prevention hotline
The City of Berkeley does not currently have a formal whistleblower hotline, though the city policy on fraud prevention does lay out employees’ responsibility to report suspected fraud and abuse. Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby has authored local government whistleblower hotline legislation. Assembly Bill 2001, put forward by Assemblymember Sandre Swanson, authorizes local government auditors to conduct whistleblower hot lines for employees, and imposes requirements for ensuring confidentiality of the information.
In my experience over the past 14 years, I’ve found that whistleblowers have been particularly helpful in identifying problems with contractors doing business with the city. I joined Auditor Ruby and Long Beach City Auditor Laura Doud in speaking in support of the bill at the Assembly Committee on Local Government on April 23, where it passed unanimously, and was referred for future action to the full Assembly.
I’d like to hear from you about whether you think the Berkeley city auditor’s office should establish a hotline for employees who have questions or information about possible misuse of city resources.
Please contact me by e-mail, by phone, or by letter to let me know what kinds of questions you’d like answers to, and what kinds of priorities you see for our independent evaluation of city services and programs next year. To find out more about what the city auditor’s office does, visit our website www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/auditor. The site now has a link for making requests for audits. You can also weigh in on establishing an employee whistleblower hotline.
Berkeley City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 981-6750.