Six Questions for SPA Alum Kharis Eppstein, Audit Manager at the City and County of Denver Auditor’s OfficeEllen Patterson | School of Public Affairs Dec 13, 2023
What inspired you to pursue a career in public service?
I have worked in public service or nonprofits my entire adult career. I started working in animal welfare right out of college, followed by work with Denver Public Schools and the Department of Education before learning about the field of performance auditing. Every time I consider trying a private sector job, I realize that working in public service has always been my passion. Between my volunteer job and my paid job with the city, I thrive on helping people and doing my part to ensure both the team and city are running smoothly.
What has been most meaningful to you about your career?
Not many people love an auditor, so it has been especially meaningful to me when agencies thank me and my team for the hard work on our audits. I strive to develop and maintain strong, trusting relationships with the people I am auditing – so when someone says ‘thank you’ or tells me how the audit has made a positive impact within their agency or in their daily operations, it makes my day.
What part of your education at the School of Public Affairs has had the greatest impact on your work?
As part of Denver Community Leadership Forum, we got to do a week of Outward Bound in Leadville, Colorado. One of our tasks was to rotate leadership roles every day. I’ve been in various leadership positions throughout my life, starting with being drum major in my high school band. As an outdoor enthusiast, I felt pretty comfortable leading a group of folks — many who did not have much outdoor experience — on a hike up a 13,000-foot mountain, starting in the dark and going off the beaten path (i.e., we had to find our own way). As I helped navigate the group, I became keenly aware that some people were struggling more than others and I tried to encourage them to keep going and to follow in my lead so we could summit. As we neared the top, however, another member of the class had us stop, grab each other’s hand, and walk in a straight line so we could reach the summit together. This simple act demonstrated the importance of standing with your team as opposed to ahead in the distance, and I have strived to lead my teams in the same manner ever since.
What is your favorite memory of the School of Public Affairs?
Outward Bound was chalk full of so many favorite memories, that it’s hard to select one. I loved getting to spend time with my class outdoors in the wilderness. Working through my fear of heights on a rope course and rappelling was a HUGE win for me. Being probably a little too confident in my ability to be outside, our coach – Paul Duba – selected a spot across the river from everyone else for our solo night. He helped me set up my lean-to bivvy and made me do two – not one – whistle checks before leaving me on my own. While difficult, sitting on a rock in the stream that night alone with my thoughts was probably one of those most impactful memories as it forced me to really look at who I was as a person and who I wanted to be. The next morning, after not much sleep because I “for sure” heard multiple bears and dangerous critters outside my sleeping bag, we got freshly made donuts. I’ll never forget how they tasted.
Looking ahead, what do you see as the biggest challenges that your field faces?
I think it is a common misconception that auditors are money people – that we are all accounting nerds, CPAs, and we audit peoples’ taxes. I have zero accounting background. I went to school to study psychology and neuroscience and had plans to go to pharmacy school until I had the devastating realization that I would need to take calculus. Government auditors typically audit processes and programs to see if they are operating effectively and using taxpayer dollars efficiently. As a life-long lover of learning, I really thrive on learning about new agencies, topics, programs, etc. at the start of every audit. It’s like starting a new job every eight months, and it’s exciting.
In Denver, the auditor is elected, and there aren’t many qualifications currently required for that person. This means that literally anyone who meets those bare minimum requirements can be auditor, if elected. I would love to see our office continue to educate the public about what we do, and I would love for the residents in Denver to pay more attention to the work the office produces.
What advice would you give to current students at the School of Public Affairs?
Keep in touch with your classmates, instructors, and coaches!! I worked with Lisa V. on Alpine’s annual report for two years, and I recently have been communicating more with others about all sorts of things, sharing ideas. Don’t stop learning after you graduate or finish a program. I hired Paul Duba to be my leadership coach after he forced me to camp alone (clearly, he saw something in me I didn’t) and worked with him for several years. It has been one of the best, smartest decisions I have made, and I am a better leader for it and a lot more aware of how to work with different types of people.