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Jax Daily Record Monday, Oct. 9, 201706:50 AM EST

From staff judge advocate to city fraud investigator

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“What has changed is the rule set,” says Inspector General James Hoffman.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

If you see, hear or know about something going on in city government that “just doesn’t seem right,” there’s someone who wants to hear what you have to say.

That’s James Hoffman, the city’s inspector general.

“Our core function is to investigate fraud and waste and improve economy and efficiency in government,” said Hoffman, 43, a retired naval officer whose last tour of duty was at Naval Station Mayport, where he was staff judge advocate for U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command.

After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1997, Hoffman earned his J.D. in 2005 at The College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law. In 2014, he earned a master’s in national security at the Georgetown University Law Center.

 “I started my career driving ships. Then I was fortunate enough to go to law school,” Hoffman said.

After being admitted to The Florida Bar in May, Hoffman began his four-year term in office June 1. He will be subject to review at the end of his term for retention by the committee of city and 4th Judicial Circuit officials, including the mayor, chief judge, state attorney and public defender that selected him.

In addition to Hoffman, the staff includes a deputy inspector general, three investigators, an auditor, a contract oversight specialist and a budget and intake specialist.

The Office of Inspector General was created by ordinance in October 2014 and amended by Charter referendum in 2015. It was granted jurisdiction over the city’s executive and legislative branches and other officers and employees, with the exception of sworn personnel.

Effective Jan. 1, the inspector general’s jurisdiction was expanded to include the Duval County School Board; Police and Fire Pension Fund; and the constitutional offices, comprising the Office of the Sheriff, Clerk of Courts, Property Appraiser and Tax Collector.

The independent authorities also were added: JEA, and the aviation, health, housing, housing finance, port and transportation authorities.

The inspector general has wide-ranging authority to review, audit and investigate any past, current or proposed city accounts, contracts (including change orders), programs and transactions.

The office has the power to subpoena witnesses and require production of documents, records and other information.

When an investigation is complete, if the office determines there is a reasonable assumption of wrongdoing, administrative disciplinary action may be recommended, or in the case of criminal activity, the case may be turned over to the state attorney for possible prosecution.

A key aspect of the inspector general program’s jurisdiction is its power to provide independent oversight of government operations, including publicly funded activities and transactions, such as contracts. The office’s work and authority may not be influenced by any other part of city government.

Hoffman said being inspector general is similar to what he did as staff judge advocate in the Navy, such as conducting legal reviews and rendering ethics opinions.

“It’s taking a set of facts and applying them to the rules. The work is really the same. What has changed is the rule set,” he said.

The most noticeable difference between the federal and local government environments is how fast processes can proceed.

“The city is small and less bureaucratic than the federal government, so it can move a lot faster,” Hoffman said.

In the three months he’s been at the post, Hoffman has been learning how city government and its departments work and how they work together. He’s also training city employees to make them more aware of the inspector general process.

His next outreach project involves the greater community. Hoffman said he plans to visit the city’s six neighborhood Citizens Planning Advisory Committees and he’s starting to schedule speaking engagements at business and civic clubs.

The office also is conducting a survey of the community’s awareness and understanding of the inspector general at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/COJOIG.  

“The goal is to get a better understanding of who knows about our office to focus our outreach efforts,” Hoffman said.

The Inspector General’s Office maintains a 24/7 hotline for reporting suspicious activities at (904) 630-8000. More information, including electronic forms for reporting, are available on the Office of Inspector General page at coj.net.

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