Watching the Watchdog 

Since Brenda Roberts became Oakland city auditor in 2015, productivity has plummeted, and ex-employees say the office has been wracked by a culture of abuse.

Page 7 of 7

One month later, on Jan. 13, 2017, he resigned.

As the newly elected auditor in January 2015, Brenda Roberts stood behind a podium in front of Paramount Theatre's packed auditorium and swore that she would uphold the Oakland City Charter.

The inauguration event was billed as the beginning of a new chapter for Oakland. Demonstrators holding "Black Lives Matter" signs flanked the entrances and solemnly sang their own version of "Which Side Are You On?" as Oakland officials prepared to take their oaths of office. Roberts was the first to take the stage; she resolutely recited her prepared speech, assuring Oaklanders she would always be on their side.

"I promise to be Oakland's auditor — and by that, I mean the auditor for all of Oakland," she said. "It means renters as well as home owners. It means employees, not just taxpayers. It means small businesses, not just the big companies with the marquee names. All of Oakland means just that — all of Oakland."

But less than three years later, Roberts has violated the city's code of conduct, has overseen a big decline in the amount of work published, and has presided over an office wracked with tension and turnover.

Several city officials were made aware of the problems in the audit office, including City Administrator Landreth and city councilmembers who allowed her to quietly miss deadlines for releasing mandated audit reports. But because of the way the charter is written, neither the city council, the mayor, nor any other city agency can ultimately hold an elected auditor accountable. The only recourse lies with the residents of Oakland.

And Roberts is already preparing for next year's campaign. "I am looking forward to continuing my career in the city of Oakland," Roberts said. "I love working for Oakland. I love my job. I love being part of the change that happens. And I am frustrated that there is so much more to do and my hands are tied in so many ways that I can't get it done."

She also said the public can expect to see a slew of reports released in the weeks ahead, including audits on the fire department, public works, the new transportation department, and the police department's 911 system. She also said that despite the turnover, she's pleased with the team she has built. "I am incredibly proud of the work that we do," she said with a smile. "I am incredibly frustrated that I can't do more — I am always endeavoring to do more. But I will continue to work to leverage the limited resources I have.

"It is critical work. It is tough work. It is not for the fainthearted," she added.

But the employees who cycled through Roberts' office over the past three years are far more pessimistic about the future of the Oakland City Auditor's Office — as long as Roberts is at the helm. Sharon Ball noted that Oakland voters will ultimately judge whether Roberts fulfilled her inauguration promise to be the auditor for all of Oakland.

"The people are the city auditor's boss — not the administration and not the city council," Ball said. "The city auditor is elected by the people, and it will be up to them." 


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