Ann-Marie Hogan has served as Berkeley’s city auditor for 24 years. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel
Ann-Marie Hogan has served as Berkeley’s city auditor for 24 years. Photo: Frances Dinkelspiel

When Ann-Marie Hogan was first elected city auditor in 1994, she inherited an office that was known, in part, for its political partisanship.

While her predecessor, Anna Rabkin, was widely admired for thwarting a city manager’s underhanded attempt to give himself a raise, and for professionalizing the office by insisting it do performance audits, she was combative with the City Council. Rabkin was closely aligned with Berkeley Citizens Action, the anti-war, ultra-liberal faction of the council — and did not have the support of the more conservative Berkeley Democratic Club faction, which reduced her effectiveness.

When Hogan ran for office she declared that she would not endorse any City Council candidate, nor would she accept any endorsements from council members.

“One of the key positions made early in [her] campaign was to be non-partisan,” said Paul Hammond, a CPA who served as treasurer for Hogan’s first campaign. “That was a significant change. The fact that she has been politically non-aligned has helped her be more effective than her predecessors, who were strongly aligned. People have respected her independence.”

Hogan sees Berkeley’s citizens, not its politicians, as her bosses, and her role as holding government accountable.

For 24 years, Hogan, 68, has operated her office as a way to hold Berkeley government accountable. She sees its citizens, not its politicians, as her bosses. To cement that approach, she pushed for a city charter amendment in 1998 that actually gave the auditor’s office the right to conduct audits of city departments. That provision hadn’t been there previously, which meant the City Council had the right to stop any investigation. The charter amendment, on Hogan’s suggestion, also mandated that Berkeley follow government standards, which are stricter, rather than corporate standards, in its audits. That required the office to be reviewed by its peers every three years.

Her push to improve Berkeley’s auditing functions extended beyond the city’s borders. As a member and leader of the Association of Local Government Auditors, (ALGA) a national trade group, Hogan has also assisted more than 30 other cities in strengthening their audit functions. In mid-May, ALGA presented Hogan with a lifetime achievement award for her dedication to the field of auditing.

“She has been a consistent, strong voice in support of independent, local government auditing but most importantly, she has been a mentor and friend to many,” the AGLA said in a newsletter.

Now, after 24 years in office, Hogan is planning to retire in December. She has endorsed Jenny Wong to replace her.

Hogan is not Berkeley’s longest-serving auditor. She shares that distinction with Meldon L. Hansom, the city’s first auditor. He served from 1895 to 1919 during an era when the auditor was more like an accountant, paying bills and the payroll but not looking at government performance.

Hogan is stepping down from one of the top elected posts in Berkeley, but she is not disappearing from public life. Although she is a soft-spoken woman, at heart she is a performer. Hogan had a lively career as a jazz singer before being elected — she opened for the singers Malvina Reynolds and Holly Near — and intends to return to the stage.

“I want to do more singing,” she said. “Maybe I’ll take up piano again. I’ll go on more hikes with my husband.”

Check out Hogan singing at the California Jazz Conservatory in 2015:

A return to jazz will bring Hogan back to her earlier days. She was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, lived in Rockland County, New York until she was in sixth grade, and then moved to Arizona before a new job opportunity for her father brought the family to Spring Valley, near San Diego.

Hogan came to UC Berkeley in 1968 and has never left the city. She arrived at a politically tumultuous time — she said the National Guard had basically taken up residence — and, in 1970, got involved with the Berkeley Peace Brigade, an anti-war pacifist group that pushed for social change. She was at People’s Park in May 1969 when more than 5,000 people demonstrated and an Alameda County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed James Rector, a bystander.

That’s where I “learned to speak truth to power,” Hogan said.

After college, Hogan managed The Blind Lemon, a nightclub on San Pablo Avenue, and was part owner of the Berkeley Square music club on University Avenue. She also wrote songs and performed as much as possible.

To support herself, Hogan, who had majored in the history of literature, and a friend opened a financial systems business in Berkeley. They advised small companies on their finances. Hogan remained politically active after college, joining the April Coalition, which eventually morphed into Berkeley Citizens Action. Her roommate at the time was an aide to Loni Hancock, then a member of the City Council. In 1982, she married Tony Wuichet and the pair have lived on Ward Street ever since.

When Rabkin decided to retire in 1994 — the more conservative faction of the council had blocked a pay raise — Hammond approached her to run for city auditor. Hogan had some financial experience and had taken some accounting classes, but Hammond considered her real strength to lie in writing and communications, skills that are critical for an auditor, he said.

“She is extremely well organized,” said Hammond, who is still a close friend. He also serves on the mayor’s audit commission with Hogan. “She has writing skills that are just amazing. She has to distill information and present it in the form of reports, recommendations, etc.”

The 1994 race was rough. Hogan won in a runoff election but has not been challenged since.

Hogan’s college involvement with groups that pushed for non-violent social change impacted how she conceptualizes her role as city auditor, she said. Her political training emphasized dialogue as a way to resolve issues and she has incorporated that approach to the office.

Hogan does not believe in “gotcha” audits. An auditor is there “to make things better,” she says.

Hogan does not believe in “gotcha” audits. She sees the role of an auditor as uncovering problems, soliciting information from those involved, and discussing solutions before making a public report. In short, an auditor is there “to make things better,” she said.

“You have to reassure them you are not going to blindside them, said Hogan. “When you see something wrong, unless its fraud, you just tell them what you found. You find out from them what they think should be done. You have a dialogue. No surprises. We let them know long before we write the report.”

That approach has been effective, said Rabkin.

“She is very good at highlighting the strengths of a particular department as well as pointing out how improvements can be made,” said Rabkin.

Hogan can’t even count how many audits her office has performed or managed, although she said it was probably around 100. Her office has also recommended hundreds of specific steps the city can take to improve operations.

In FY 2018, which ended in June, the office issued eight reports to council, presenting 51 recommended actions. In FY 2017, the office also presented eight reports. These included examinations of Measure GG, a fire and disaster tax approved by voters in 2008 (the money was being spent correctly, the audit concluded); the payroll division; the parks tax; ambulance billing by the fire department (the report found that Berkeley has $23 million in uncollectable fees); and a report on the city’s ethical climate (good, but lower-level employees ranked fairness in promotion lower than higher-level employees.)

Audits rarely uncover outright fraud, but they can examine why misdeeds happen.

Audits rarely uncover outright fraud, but they can examine why misdeeds happen, said Hogan. In 2014, the auditor’s office examined a $52,000 theft made by an employee of the Parks, Recreation, and Waterfront Department. The report said that the loss was probably greater than that and that Berkeley could expect more theft unless systems were changed, probably at a cost of about $300,000.

The theft was made during a time Berkeley was cutting back on management positions for financial reasons, lessening employee oversight. As a result, the audit pointed out, a number of warning signals were missed: Revenue from boat launches dropped sharply three years in a row even though rates had risen significantly, there was no revenue at all in August 2007, and there were thousands of dollars in refunds at the Tuolumne Camp store.

Police began an investigation into the employee but the worker died before it was completed.

Another audit that had a big impact was an examination of the public works department and issues with the city sewer system. Main breaks were common, some even happening multiple times in the same location, resulting in sewage spilling into the bay. An audit by Hogan’s office revealed that crews called out to examine broken or leaky pipes would manually fill out work orders to fix them. For some reason, the staff back at the corporation yard did not input the orders into the system. That meant pipes did not get fixed and crews got called back repeatedly to pipes they had already examined. The 2009 audit suggested a number of ways public works could improve operations and reduce spills.

One of Hogan’s most challenging recommendations was for Berkeley to increase its reserve fund.

One of her most challenging recommendations was for Berkeley to increase its reserve fund. While many City Council members professed a desire to set aside a larger amount for emergencies, they were reluctant to let the money go, said Hogan.

“Tom Bates was putting it off and off and off,” she said.

The council did eventually increase its reserve fund. In January 2017, the council instituted a new policy to raise the reserve to hit Hogan’s recommended 16.7% reserve by the end of FY 2020 (previous city policy set an 8% unallocated fund balance, not really a reserve). A long-term goal of a 30% reserve is planned to be achieved within no more than 10 years.

Hogan’s reports have drawn praise for their incisiveness and readability.

“Her reports are models of what an audit report should look like,” said Rabkin. “It’s readable. It’s understandable. It’s pleasing to the eye. The proof is that most of her recommendations are accepted by city staff, which results in major improvements in city operations.”

In her report on the city reserve fund, for example, Hogan recalled Aesop’s 3,000-year-old tale of the “Grasshopper and the Ant.” The frivolous grasshopper plays through the summer months while the industrious ant toils to store food for the winter. When winter arrives, the grasshopper starves to death. She compared Berkeley to the grasshopper.

“The community really depends on her trustworthiness,” said Rabkin. “She has fulfilled that role well.”

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...