Meet San Jose’s new City Hall watchdog
Joe Rois, 49, was selected by the City Council to serve as San Jose's city auditor after more than a decade at the agency. Photo by Adam F. Hutton.

San Jose City Hall has a new watchdog and he vows to hold government officials accountable — including himself.

The city auditor, one of the most important jobs at City Hall, was recently filled by a veteran of the department, Joe Rois, who joined the City Auditor’s office in 2008.

Rois earned a couple of promotions over the years, rising to supervising auditor in 2017. And when she retired in March, City Auditor Sharon Erickson recommended the City Council hire him as acting auditor, and that he be selected as her replacement after a nationwide search was completed.

The City Auditor is one of only five positions in San Jose government that is hired by — and reports directly to — the City Council. Only the City Manager, City Attorney, City Clerk and Independent Police Auditor share that distinction.

That keeps the agency independent, which is integral to its purpose, the new auditor said in an interview with San Jose Spotlight. The office’s mission is to independently assess and report on city operations and services through audits, and making recommendations to strengthen public accountability and improve city government.

In other words, Rois is the watchdog trying to keep the officials honest at City Hall.

“The auditor is independent from the administration,” Rois, 49, said. “And our independence is important because from that perspective we can safeguard public assets and help the City Council spend taxpayer money wisely.”

Finding facts, and using data to get the most out of the city’s investments in infrastructure and services — maximizing the value of every dollar spent by identifying the city’s successes and failures — is the basic job description.

And since the city auditor makes recommendations directly to the City Council, frequently on matters relevant to every resident, Erickson says the public needs someone who will acknowledge the city’s failures, and make honest recommendations for improvements without fear of being fired or silenced by someone higher up on the organization chart.

“The public relies on the auditor’s office for that independent assessment,” the former auditor said. “And their credibility matters.”

That won’t be a problem for Rois she added. Erickson gave him his first job at the City Auditor’s office more than a decade ago, recalling that she was impressed he had worked as a Certified Public Accountant and as a Project Coordinator and Editor of Sustainable San Mateo County’s annual Indicators Report.

“He’s so thorough and even-handed in all his work,” Erickson said. “The work of a City Auditor is never a breeze, but he was very good at it right from the start.”

Rois took over as acting City Auditor in April when Erickson left office. And in that capacity he presented a 74-page audit on the mayor’s gang prevention task force that made 17 recommendations to make it more effective.

He was hired by the council to assume the permanent job on June 25 — just before its July recess.

On Wednesday, he presented his first work plan for the 2019-20 fiscal year to the council’s Rules and Open Government Committee — a plan that lays out 21 audits his office hopes to complete during that time. That includes several audits that are already in progress, such as a regular investigation into how the city uses its credit cards and a follow-up to a 2016 audit of technology upgrades across city departments.

Also on the list is one carryover audit from the last work plan, an audit of the Housing Department’s grant programs. But almost half of the list is entirely new, including investigations into fire safety code inspections, the accuracy of water billing and pet licenses.

Rois said he’s got the same vision for his department as Erickson had when she ran the office — a dedication to identifying and shoring up weaknesses in everything the city does, from sidewalk repair and expense reimbursements to even the auditor’s office itself.

“One thing I really admire about the people in this office is that they are willing to look in the mirror at their own workflows and find ways to be more efficient — continuous improvement has been a guiding philosophy of the department as long as I’ve been here,” said Rois, adding that he hopes to keep it that way.

Contact Adam F. Hutton at afhutton.sjspotlight@gmail.com or follow @adamfhutton on Twitter.

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