Q&A: A numbers man who counts on jokes

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Name: Harvey Rose
Age: 80
City: San Francisco
Position: Budget analyst, S.F. Board of Supervisors

What brought you to San Francisco?

Harvey Rose: I was recruited in 1971 to become the first budget analyst for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. I’ve been the budget analyst ever since, with the exception of two years (1973–1975) where I was auditor general of the State of California. I’m so old I knew Baskin-Robbins when they only had two flavors.

Why were you only auditor general for two years?

I was fired because of my insistence on independence in auditing. That is the most important thing an auditor can be: independent and objective. Not bound to any politics. Just reporting the facts. After I was fired, San Francisco asked me back.

Harvey Rose

Did you know, when you were a kid growing up in New Jersey, that you’d be working with numbers your whole life?

Not at all. My first ambition was to be the announcer for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

What’s your weekly routine like?

On Mondays, I brief the members of the Board of Supervisors on the budget and finance report that we issue each week at our Wednesday meetings. Then on Tuesdays, I attend all the Board of Supervisor meetings.

What are some of the most frequent concerns you raise when analyzing different reports?

Well, the reports vary like heck. When [former Mayor] Willie Brown proposed to build a stadium mall at Candlestick Park, the contention was that there would be no impact on the general fund, but our analysis showed there would be significant impact on the general fund. The next morning, I woke up to the S.F. Chronicle saying I was going to be fired by Willie Brown.

Were you fired?

No, I can only be fired by the Board of Supervisors. I serve at the pleasure of the board, and they need a 6-5 vote to fire me. They can fire Harvey Rose at any time.

When the mayor proposes the budget each June, you have about two weeks to look over and analyze the entire budget. What are those two weeks like for you?

That is a very grueling period where we work around the clock. They’re tough. We go line by line, and do a detailed, grueling analysis of each line item to see if it’s justified. In past years, I’ve been there until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning many nights in a row.

What is the most surprising thing that’s come out of a management audit that you’ve done over the years?

We found the treasurer had money in a non-interest-bearing checking account, and it was a large sum. So we recommended it go into a savings account.  We also found once that the airports had the lowest landing fees in the country, so we recommended they raise the landing fee. We saved the city $24 million.

How big are the budget books?

Oh, they’re huge. They’re generally two or three volumes with thousands of pages. In recent years, it’s been more on the computer, but we still get the summary books.

Do you get jokes about an East Coast Jewish guy handling the city’s money?

Not really. I don’t really joke about my religion actually, though I am known for making a lot of jokes. By the way, you should know that there are only five people in the entire world that really like me, and they are my grandchildren.

Do the jokes keep you sane?

As the budget analyst for the S.F. Board of Supervisors, I could go completely out of my mind and no one would know the difference. So yeah, I think that in the work we do, which is tedious and difficult, if you don’t have a sense of humor, you’ve got nothing. Independence is my absolute — that’s the first and foremost. To be honest, objective and have a good sense of humor.

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Hannah Rubin

Hannah Rubin is a writer at J. She can be reached at [email protected].