When she took over as Los Angeles controller in 2001, the most trenchant piece of counsel that Laura Chick received from her predecessor, Rick Tuttle, was that she had to get used to being lonely. "You can't have good friends in city hall any more," he told her.
Meeting of California's four elected city auditors.
Which may be why, hanging on the wall directly across from Laura Chick's desk in Sacramento, where she can see it whenever she looks up, is a photograph of herself with three other women. Chick calls the group "The Sisterhood"; beside herself it includes Ann Marie Hogan, the city auditor of Berkeley; Laura Doud, the auditor of Long Beach; and Courtney Ruby, the auditor of Oakland. Those cities are the only four in California that elect their auditors.
Hogan, who was first elected in 1994, is the veteran of the group. Doud and Ruby were each elected in 2006. The four women have gotten together on a few occasions, and they have relied on one another for advice and support in between.
This is especially true of Doud and Ruby, who each, in their own ways, have taken Chick's precedent to heart. Doud, for instance, ran for the office--against an incumbent who had once employed her--after watching Chick's performance in Los Angeles. "I was working and going to law school, but I was hearing about all these great audits Laura Chick was doing--she had uncovered some cash in the Parks and Rec Department in a trust fund for youth programs that wasn't being spent; the high-profile audits with Fleishman-Hillard; the contracts at the airport... It was like, Wow! She really brought the level of auditing up to a completely new level!"
For her part, Ruby didn't get to know Chick until after she'd won office in Oakland and began uncovering problems in various city departments--and facing intense opposition to her work from the city manager at the time. The other women, she says, "were all supportive in being a sounding board and advising me on how you move through that. The great thing about Laura in particular was she sat me down and said, 'There's no question that this is your role, this is your authority, and you need to do whatever it takes to make sure you get what you need.'"
Chick is still close to the other auditors, though her place in the local-elected-auditor quartet will be taken by her successor, Los Angeles controller Wendy Greuel. But now that she's moved on, Chick has found an entire auditing community not just at the state level, but among the federal inspectors general with whom she is working on overseeing stimulus spending. At a meeting in Washington, she was struck by the sense of comfort when she sat down with a group of federal IGs to talk shop. "It was the first time I think in eight years where I was surrounded by like-minded people," she says. "It's a family."