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Retiring San Diego Budget Analyst: 'We Are Here To Stay'

San Diego Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin sits at the dais, Dec. 12, 2016.
Milan Kovacevic
San Diego Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin sits at the dais, Dec. 12, 2016.

After 16 years on the job, San Diego Independent Budget Analyst Andrea Tevlin announced her retirement earlier this month. Her office was established by voters in 2004 as part of the city’s transition to a strong mayor form of government.

The office is meant to be an independent check on the mayor, and a source of factual and unbiased information for the City Council and public. The city intends to do a nationwide search for Tevlin's replacement later this year. The final candidate must be confirmed by a majority of councilmembers.

Retiring San Diego Budget Analyst: 'We Are Here To Stay'
Listen to this story by Andrew Bowen.

Tevlin spoke with KPBS about the most difficult moments of her career and what advice she would give her successor.


Q: For those who are less familiar with city government, what does the independent budget analyst do?

A: The independent budget analyst was part of the ballot item, because we were switching from a city manager form (of government) to a strong mayor form. That means that the city manager is no longer here to advise the council on issues. So that's where I step in, not just for the council, but for the public and actually for being independent. Because the councilmembers have very different perspectives. And a city manager would come in and give various proposals or just different perspectives. And that's what we do.

Q: Your position was born out of the 2005 financial crisis that the city faced. What was going on at that time, and why was it determined that an independent budget analyst was necessary?

A: From what I understand, there was a lot of concern about having factual information from the staff. The public did not understand the processes. So that's why they felt you should be independent. Because the council is varied, and then you have a mayor who is political as well. And he's now running the city with 10,000 employees reporting to him. And they thought that this would help the public. It would help the council, because with factual information, that's how you get good decisions made. You don't get good decisions from a lack of transparency. That was the other issue that was huge. There was a lack of transparency here. And they wanted those two elements: transparency and independence.

Q: You've chosen to make this position a lot more about transparency than just analyzing budgets. Why was that important to you?


A: I guess just from my experience — I had been in this field for thirty-some years when I came here. And I just know that that's an important part of the process, because (the public) can really make a difference when they're coming to the council or to the mayor if they have good information. I just felt a responsibility for it. I really did. So we just decided — it's even in our mission statement that I have here, that it's "providing council and the community with clear, objective and unbiased information." So that was our goal from day one, and we have really worked on that.

Q: What was one of the most difficult moments in your career at the city?

A: My most difficult moments were in the beginning, when no one understood what this office was going to do, particularly the mayor's office. And it was difficult to get to that point where I could convince people that we are here to stay, we're going to do our job, we're gonna be factual, we're going to be transparent, and that's it. And it just took a while. It just really took a while. Everyone at that point, we were so focused on the budget. Everyone was very concerned. That's the first mission everyone had, was to just get that budget back in place. And I think after a while, people got to know that we were doing good work, not trying to criticize. But it was a while. It was a while, a couple of years.

Q: What are some of the most joyful moments of your career at the city?

A: I think the most joyful moments have been when people in the council, in the mayor's office, and other people in the community groups got to learn about what we were doing. And then it kind of just slowly continued to grow in our work and the respect that people had for us. And that is what made me extremely happy. Because we had a goal that we had from the beginning, the one I just talked about, and that was very serious for me. I wanted it to be for the council and for the public, and I wanted other people to understand we were just doing good work.

Q: The city is about to start looking for your replacement. If you could give that person some advice, what would you say to them?

A: The most important thing, of course, is to not be political. But you have to understand politics, and you're in that world all the time. And it's not like a job working for councilmembers, (where) you're their staff person and you're advocating for them, which is very appropriate. But that's not what we do at all. And you have to be really diligent about it, because obviously you're going to have some people who don't — even councilmembers who aren't happy with you any given week. And that's good, because they can see there are different positions that people take, and that they have to deal with that, too.