Thirty-eight years ago, when my parents packed up their three young daughters in Taiwan for a hopeful yet unknown future in the United States, they never would have dreamed that one day their eldest daughter, then six, would be running for public office. Yet here I am, now having lived in Berkeley for 24 years, putting myself forward to be your next city auditor.
The journey that brought me from Taiwan to Southern California, and finally to Berkeley shaped the values I hold today and those that I will bring to the auditor’s office.
When my parents immigrated to the United States, they had very little. My great aunt owned a few small motels in Southern California, and we were brought over to manage one of them. We did not have much money and our first years in the United States consisted of us moving from motel to motel, as my parents worked to improve the businesses.
While we were together and happy, this was an unstable life. It meant switching schools every few months and meeting a whole new set of people. It meant weekends and holidays were spent not celebrating with friends, but cleaning up motel rooms. Growing up poor, I recall several times playing a game of finding cans with my sisters and mom in order to collect enough recycling money to pay for meals.
Still, living in the United States was a tremendous opportunity. My parents were able to save little by little, and eventually took over ownership of one of the motels. I finally had a stable home, but this also meant continued work and responsibility. Throughout my childhood, until I went to college, my sisters and I worked at the motel – renting rooms, cleaning rooms, balancing the books, and other tasks.
Our motel was not a high-end motel. We had a very diverse and sometimes troubled clientele. My childhood was also spent counseling prostitutes and domestic violence victims, talking with people who were on the edge of homelessness, and witnessing the effects of drug abuse on families. But I also learned how fortunate I was. I had a strong family, opportunities that many didn’t, and parents who supported us and modeled the importance of caring for those less fortunate. I was not sure what path my life would take, but I knew that when I grew up, I wanted a career in public service to others.
I worked hard as well, graduated at the top of my high school class, and was fortunate enough to get into UC Berkeley. There I found a wonderful and giving community, studied economics and public policy, got involved in student issues, and met my husband Mark working at the Student Advocate’s Office. I went on to get a graduate degree in public administration from NYU. I also worked in local government in San Francisco and New York on mental health and health issues.
I have now lived in Berkeley for 24 years, have twin sons at Berkeley High, and am firmly rooted in our community.
The bulk of my career — 18 years — has been as an auditor at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), the federal auditing agency. At the GAO, I helped conduct audits on a wide range of issues, from terrorist financing to taxation to retirement accounts. I authored a report that exposed the extent to which corporations do not pay taxes; audits I worked on resulted in over $3 billion in savings.
Government auditors must meet strict professional standards and requirements. Auditing standards state that you need to complete 80 hours of auditing training every two years to be qualified to conduct audits. I am very familiar with these conditions because I have managed training for thousands of federal, state, and local auditors across the United States.
It is my extensive experience at the GAO that I plan to bring to the Berkeley auditor’s office.
As opposed to the city council, which makes policy, the role of the Berkeley city auditor is to evaluate programs. Auditors make sure that taxpayer money is not wasted and is spent as directed. Auditors also review city programs to see if they are being administered fairly and efficiently. As city auditor, I will do just that. I will promote transparency in budgeting, I will audit agencies based on budgetary impact and community input, and I will place a high priority on making sure services are being provided equitably to all Berkeley residents. (I have created a community survey to help determine audit priorities — I encourage you to take it.)
The city faces large challenges, both immediate and on the horizon. We need to tackle the lack of affordability of housing, homelessness, and the climate crisis now. The city must also address long-term infrastructure and unfunded liabilities to ensure fiscal sustainability. As city auditor, I will evaluate city programs and recommend improvements related to these or other issues to ensure your taxpayer money is properly spent and maximized.
There are also more than 100 recommendations made in previous audit reports that have yet to be implemented. As the auditor, I will work with the mayor, city council, and department heads to implement and resolve these issues. I will also engage the community in the process and plan to bring the auditor’s office into the 21st century by disseminating audit reports and recommendations to the public through podcasts, videos, and community meetings.
I’m proud that a wide range of leaders in the auditing world and in the Berkeley community endorse this campaign and believe I am the right person for this job. These include the current Berkeley City Auditor Ann-Marie Hogan, former City Auditor Anna Rabkin, three past presidents of the national Association of Local Government Auditors, and every member of the Berkeley City Council. I am also proud to have the support of numerous Berkeley residents, including teachers, parents, Cal students, neighbors, and many others I have met through my grassroots campaign. Many have supported this campaign because they believe I will hold the city accountable to serving Berkeley residents.
With my personal and professional background, experience, and longtime residency in the Berkeley community, I know I have the skills and understanding to be an auditor for Berkeley residents. I want to do my part to uphold and strengthen the public institutions that have made my family’s success possible. I humbly ask for your support and vote.
Jenny Wong is an 18-year federal government auditor, a 24-year resident of Berkeley, and parent of twins at Berkeley High.