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Comment Archives: Stories: News & Opinion: Feature

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

This letter reflects the opinion of our active staff members at the Office of the Oakland City Auditor.

We feel compelled to respond to the recent article released about City Auditor, Brenda Roberts, as it does not accurately portray her management style, is one-sided, and relies heavily on allegations Brenda was absolved of. Simply put, we do not recognize the woman portrayed in this article.

We know Brenda to be a professional, caring, intelligent, passionate and compassionate leader. She ensures her staff is well trained, intellectually challenged, and cares about our career trajectories, and overall well-being.

It is a pleasure to work with her. She cares deeply about serving Oakland and makes certain we feel a sense of pride and ownership around our work and audits. She offers guidance and support and encourages us to attend trainings to boost our crucial audit skills required to ensure the City of Oakland runs more efficiently.

Brenda embraces the celebration of milestones (such as the release of audits, birthdays, newly hired team members, etc.) and develops relationships with other departments so we arent working in silos, disconnected from the larger workings of the City.

She also NEVER stops working. Whether she is out in the community at Neighborhood Crime Prevention Council meetings, responding to Whistleblower complaints, attending City Council meetings, or guiding us through audits, her strong work ethic infuses our work. We have produced a total of 10 audits since Brenda took office in 2015. Another 4 audits in OFD, OPD, Public Works and the Public Ethics Commission will be released soon.

Housing, of course, is one of the top issues facing Oakland and our Rent Adjustment Program audit was pivotal in bringing about significant changes to Oaklands housing and rental program. We are proud our Rent Adjustment Program audit was recognized with a Knighton Award and will positively impact Oaklands response to the housing crisis.

Currently, our team is united, thriving and gaining traction. We are honored that Brenda is at the helm of our office and feel lucky to be working and growing with her.

We look forward to engaging in the important work ahead of us, and most importantly, serving this City we all care so deeply about.

Respectfully,
The Office of the City Auditor

Posted by Carlos Hickerson on 10/19/2017 at 3:41 PM

Re: “The Mother and the Officer

Under lawful CIRCUMSTANCES & EVENTS Police must have equipment to 'detain' motor vehicles just as Police 'detain' persons in handcuffs.

Posted by Peter Quinn on 10/19/2017 at 7:17 AM

Re: “The Mother and the Officer

So two officers went up to a car, the occupants tried to run, appeared to be fighting, and had a gun in sight. What are the officers supposed to do? Apologize and let them go?

Posted by Ernest Montague on 10/19/2017 at 7:14 AM

Re: “The Mother and the Officer

Once again Darwin Bond Graham shows his bias in reporting and does not paint the full picture. Bellusa was fired from the Oakland Police Department. Sarna had issues, but he was about to eliminate the sergeants position that Bellusa was occupying. As far as Jordan, he should keep his mouth shut. He was the worse chief in Oakland Police Department history. He was Quan's puppet and yes man. How can he say he wanted the internal affairs case, but let a Sarna take over. Is that leadership? No, as chief he was also in charge of the criminal case, but did nothing to ensure it was conducted properly. Jordan had a history of burying his head in the sand when it comes to criminal investigations and pointing the finger at others. Jordan is quick to offer his opinion when a reporter puts a mic or notepad in his face, but lets be real Jordan was "fired" as well from OPD and has an ax to grind. Jordan left on a medical for no heart or spine? I see now he also has no brain.

Posted by Daffy_Duck on 10/18/2017 at 8:20 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Apart from the failings of our current City Auditor, it helps to consider that of the last 4 City Auditors, only one of the them, Courtney Ruby, even came close to scrutinizing the politically powerful. I see her report on pension funding problems the high point of her term in office. The report was issued, Ruby publicized it well, spoke before Council, and that was the end of it. She gave it a good try and then gave up in the face of an unreceptive City Council and an electorate that was more concerned with how to save for their own retirements than worry about how the city would pay for its retirement obligations.

Roland Smith's most controversial audit was questioning the car allowances given to city officials.

Before Smith we had Norma Lau. Ms. Lau was elected to 5 terms in office. People often talk of the "beloved" Norma Lau. A former staff member of hers explained that Norma Lau often told him that to survive as Auditor you have "to go along, to get along." I asked him about the OPD overtime audit I had heard her office performed. He said it was effectively a whitewash.

Interesting thing is that Ms Roberts did hire some very "heavy" internal auditors, such as the former head of Kaiser's internal audit dept. The mystery is why Ms. Roberts would hire someone like that but not give them free rein to do their job.

I'm not sure what the long-term solution is to give our City Auditors the backbone to audit the heck out of city operations and contracts. Making it an appointed position under the City Administrator or Mayor would make any Auditor, even more, risk averse. Making Auditor a civil service position is worth considering but also guarantees the Auditor won't be answerable to the voters. It doesn't guarantee that they'll aggressively audit and earn the trust of potential whistleblowers that their tips won't get sent to the round file. Raising the compensation of the Auditor to that of the City Attorney is part of the solution to attracting qualified candidates. It's a lot to expect a successful CPA or Internal Auditor upper manager from private industry to take a job that pays less than private industry and rewards aggressive auditing with 0 job security.

(MJ, if I got the facts wrong about the procedures of the County Democrat endorsement process, blame my ignorance of the opaque process. I naively thought both of us would go to the full group, and get grilled about issues and platforms. That didn't happen. When Ms. Roberts turn came first, out came something like "I'm proud and gratified to be endorsed by...." and she rattled off virtually every well known elected local Democratic official. Ms. Roberts ignored the questions and repeated something irrelevant about how she supported Women's Rights and Equal Opportunity. I watched the delegates nod their approval automatically. I was disappointed and knew I was a dead man walking, but I kept on campaigning and educating voters about the issues. Plus I enjoyed talking with voters and learning a lot about Oakland issues from them. A couple of years after my route, I went back and ran for a seat on the Dem Central Comm. as a Berniecrat with a platform of requiring endorsed candidates to support repeal of the police officers bill of rights. I had thought people were uninformed about the job of Auditor. I found they were even less informed about the role of the Dem Central Comm. )

Len Raphael, CPA
Temescal

Posted by Len Raphael on 10/13/2017 at 2:32 AM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Len -

I need to call you out on your statement that the full committee and Democratic Party endorsed Ms. Roberts. This is factually incorrect and you knew this. I pulled her from the consent calendar and this made sense to give you and her an opportunity to make your case. On that meeting I and other members made the case against Ms. Roberts. It just a fact. We are all entitled to our own opinion and you certainly are but not entitled to your own facts.

MJ

Posted by oaklandnow on 10/13/2017 at 12:44 AM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Interesting that no one comments that Roberts is doing a good job.

Posted by Naomi_Schiff on 10/12/2017 at 10:59 PM

Re: “How Peet's Starbucked Itself

The Thrill is Gone:
I have drunk Peet's for 41 years. I still remember THE most ethereal cup of coffee I ever drank: Jamaica Blue Mountain, 1981. But I have drunk my last. For years, I lived in Berkeley and made weekly coffee runs to the original Peet's store at Walnut & Vine. The staff was knowledgeable, and proud of where they worked. And no matter where I lived in the country over the past three decades, I ordered Peet's coffee & had it shipped to me. No more. The quality of the coffee has plummeted from the lofty standards of Mr. Peet. And the stores look like they've been McDonalized. I loved Peet's. But the thrill is gone. Mr. Peet would turn over in his grave. DMD

Posted by Dogzz on 10/12/2017 at 8:40 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Len, the Alameda Party Democratic Party did not "unanimously" endorse Brendra Roberts. I, for one, voted for you because you had an actual plan of which agencies you were going to audit and why. Roberts had platitudes.

Ironically, it was Sharon Ball, a member of the Central Committee, who argued that we should endorse Roberts and convinced many committee members to do the same.

Posted by Margarita Lacabe on 10/12/2017 at 2:09 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Ms. Roberts changed her registration from American Independent to Dem on the day she registered to run for Auditor.

That's the offshoot of the segregationist party formed by the bad old George Wallace before he recanted some of his racism.

The Alameda County Dem Council knew both of our registration histories ahead of their vote.

They also knew that several years before I was a registered Republican who switched to Democrat and that I had contributed money and time to Obamba campaign.

Before the County Dems unanimously endorsed Ms. Roberts, one of the ACDCC members told me how the ACCDC was sure Brenda thought that American Independent Party registration just meant "independent."

For that to be true, Ms. Roberts for years would have had to have tossed the election mailers from the AIP without glancing at them.

Reading how she treated her black staffer like a slave, puts that American Independent Party registration in a different light.

Posted by Len Raphael on 10/12/2017 at 12:07 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Sadly, the City Manager and City Council will do nothing in this instance. They are afraid of another lawsuit, the second most popular sport of Oakland Employees.

Posted by Ernest Montague on 10/12/2017 at 8:35 AM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Now we know why the Ghost Ship warehouse wasn't on the auditor's list of buildings in the cities inventory...
The EB-5 visa program has been turned into a criminal enterprise and properties are being "land-banked". Kickbacks are being given and property assessments are fraudulent.
The owner of the Ghost Ship is about to get a $3 million payout from the insurance company, for a fire at a building that had never been inspected.
The City of Oakland is a criminal enterprise!
Sincerely,
Allen Sanford
https://www.facebook.com/RealEstateFraudOr…

Posted by Allen Sanford on 10/12/2017 at 8:21 AM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

Call this sour grapes, since I was the other candidate whom Ms. Roberts trounced in the election. But the legions of well known public officials and the boards of the biggest Oakland municipal unions, got exactly the hear no evil, see no evil City Auditor they wanted.

In Ms. Roberts, they had someone unknown and unconnected to most of Oakland, who had lived all her time in Oakland in a gated hills community and commuted thru the flats to get to SF or Emeryville. They got someone completely dependent on their endorsements to get re-elected.

Background: Much more so than in the local district races or even citywide races such as Mayor which get decent media attention, the endorsement of the Alameda County Democratic Committee is essential to winning in low information race. That endorsement gets you on the relatively inexpensive mailing pieces Endorsed by the Democratic Party.

And most voters assume that if the Democratic Party endorses one candidate, then the other candidate must be a Republican, Green Party, or Peace and Freedom. In fact, the local branch of the Democratic Party had endorsed me over Ms. Roberts, but likely a few phone calls were made, and the full County Committee unanimously endorsed Ms. Roberts. In a prior interview, the politically influential Fire Fighters Association had flatly told me that did not want an Auditor on record calling for public discussion of city employee retirement benefits. The Police Officers Association board told me they would not accept an Auditor who both supported greater police accountability (Im still the Treasurer for the Coalition for Police Accountability, aka Measure LL) and questioned high police disability and overtime pay. Ms. Roberts, bless her, probably didnt even know what the issues were.

Most voters reasonably assumed that Ms. Roberts was the better candidate because she had years of experience as an auditor, where I was merely a CPA tax accountant with years of participation in Oakland civic and community activities. Hey, everything else being equal, theyd be correct.

The media never had the time to explain to voters that the City Auditor doesnt perform audits. The Auditor hires an Assistant Auditor who manages the staff of field auditors and others. The Auditor sets goals, selects some of the audit areas, and communicates findings to the public and Council.

I asked a TV reporter at a mayoral election event why no Auditor race coverage. She answered that her boss gave her 3 minutes of airtime to cover the Mayoral and all the Council races. 0 for Auditor race. The media did not bother even to verify the resumes of either candidate for Auditor. And the only checking that the City Clerk does is make sure the Auditor candidates have current CPA or management auditor certifications. People do more background checking on their dog walker.

But what made me laugh at one of the first forums were the words from Ms. Roberts surrogate, the Berkeley City Auditor. How Ms. Roberts must be the better candidate because even though she didnt know much about Ms. Roberts, she knew a lot about me. How I had been politically active for years. How that meant Ms. Roberts would be objective, not partisan like me.

Ms. Roberts took that cue and made her complete ignorance of Oakland into a strength, not a weakness. In the poorly attended, few public forums in which we both spoke, Ms. Roberts smoothly repeated the mantra how she would apply objective, scientific audit methods to determine which areas needed to be audited. That didnt work so well going to door to door, or face to face with voters when people asked for specifics, but the media swallowed it whole. It wasnt just the East Bay Express who endorsed Ms. Roberts; it was also the former Oakland Tribune.

Ironically, more than a few voters told me I was too combative and angry to be effective, while Ms. Roberts was so even-tempered and mild.

Posted by Len Raphael on 10/12/2017 at 2:08 AM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

"Not long after Roberts arrived at City Hall, the office's work slowed to a crawl" This is not unintentional. Roberts knows she only has one job - and that's to not rock the boat - dont investigate the city contracts (and upset the unions), don't make enemies with the mayor or city council members, and you can sail into office again with 80% off the vote. This is what she promised in 2014 - not to rock the boat - and she was endorsed by all the special interest groups.

But then how do you manage competent people working for you who feel they lack a sense of purpose or direction? Make them feel that the problem is them.

Posted by Clarence C. Johnson on 10/11/2017 at 9:40 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

All indications here are of a presentable, plausible... incompetent. And the electorate put her there in desperation to "throw the old rascals out".

The question becomes, how do we avoid a repeat performance?

Wait... Why is a critical function like this politicized (elected)? That MAY be a key question to answer in not getting another one like this.

Posted by Bruce Ferrell on 10/11/2017 at 9:31 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

I know who I am NOT voting for. She needs to go ASAP.

Posted by Celeste B on 10/11/2017 at 8:15 PM

Re: “Watching the Watchdog

This is nothing. I once worked for the president of a college back east who was a control freak like Roberts. All the deans and asst deans had to get the president's permission to do anything, short of blowing their noses. They had to submit a memo for each action and wait for him to respond, which could take weeks because of all the memos that piled up on his desk. He had them in neat piles, about 3 reams' worth per pile, 14 piles in all. And if there was a single typo in a memo, the pres would return it to be corrected, after which it went to the bottom of the piles and would have to work its way up again.

Posted by Mike Bradley on 10/11/2017 at 1:13 PM

Re: “Project Censored

An investigation should be conducted into how Jerry Brown turned the EB-5 visa program into a criminal enterprise which resulted in the Ghost Ship warehouse fire and the fire on San Pablo....
Regards, Allen Sanford
https://www.facebook.com/RealEstateFraudOr…

Posted by Allen Sanford on 10/05/2017 at 7:14 AM

Re: “Project Censored

Can we get a list of local underreported stories?

Posted by Mike Hutchinson on 10/04/2017 at 1:03 PM

Re: “Project Censored

I started reporting on the threat of antibiotic resistance and the political climate around it as early as 2008.

Posted by citizenkrans on 10/04/2017 at 9:40 AM

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