The campaign for county controller became interesting before it really began.
Candidate Joe Galligan, a certified public accountant and former Burlingame mayor, took his opponent, assistant county controller Juan Raigoza to court so a judge could decide if he meets the office’s requirements under the government code. A judge ultimately ruled that Raigoza does meet the mandate of senior fiscal management experience — and an appellate court refused Galligan’s request for reconsideration — but those legal decrees only paved the way for voters to now decide who is the best person for the job.
The controller is the county’s top fiscal watchdog and the upcoming retirement of Controller Bob Adler, appointed to finish the unexpired term of his predecessor, leaves the seat up for grabs. To hold the job, an individual must meet one of the four possible criteria: Be a certified public accountant; or, possess a degree from an accredited four-year institution with a major in accounting or its equivalent and serve in a senior fiscal management position at a private firm, government agency or nonprofit for at least three years straight within the last five years; or, be certified as a professional internal auditor with a minimum of 16 semester units or equivalent in accounting, auditing or finance; or serve as the county auditor, chief deputy county auditor or chief assistant county auditor for at least three years continuously.
In individual sit-down interviews with the Daily Journal, both Raigoza and Galligan emphasized not only their qualifications but other attributes that each say are the reasons voters should choose him on the June 3 ballot.
Raigoza, 47, has an accounting degree and an MBA. He has been with the Controller’s Office for 13 years after two two-year turns at Big Four accounting firms and was named assistant controller in 2012 after Adler moved up. He said he’s experienced with all facets of the office and is a pretty quick learner — particular useful for the constant changes by the state. This is his first bid for public office.
Galligan, 58, spent eight years on the Burlingame City Council which he said was a strong training ground for combing through budgets and learning where exactly the money comes and goes. During his tenure, a librarian embezzling approximately $400,000 in fines was uncovered and Galligan takes credit for seeking a library audit based on an off-hand remark by an employee about the huge spike in deposits during the woman’s vacation.
He, along with two partners, also run a 13-employee accounting firm. He ran unsuccessfully for county treasurer-tax collector four years ago but feels controller is a better fit.
“To me, this is very natural,” he said.
Both agree the controller should be an elected rather than appointed position and see positives in the possibility someday of the county consolidating the office with tax collector and treasurer since they have overlapping functions.
But there are sharp difference in how each addresses the job they would do as controller, in some part by where they sit now. Galligan said he’s not been allowed to see the inner workings and finances of the office so can only speak generally about where greater efficiencies or changes might be fitting.
“Everything may be perfect but it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some places that can be tweaked,” he said.
Raigoza points to where the office is now, programs that are being implemented and believes overall performance is solid.
He is excited about a new accounts payroll project being implemented to move the process to all-electronic. Among his points of pride is the office’s popular annual financial report, or PAFR, which was in response to the civil grand jury’s recommendation the office improve its transparency and deliver the county’s financial picture in more colloquial terms rather than accounting jargon. The county recently launched an online data dashboard including “open checkbook,” where visitors can see checks cut greater than $5,000, and “unclaimed checks” where users can see if they have outstanding money owed. The annual reports also include more graphs, definition of terms and data that tracks trends as well as yearly information.
Raigoza said these are examples of the office being responsive to the grand jury and continually striving to be more user-friendly.
“We’re always ready to make things better,” he said.
Galligan also has praise for the portals and the PAFR.
If elected to oversee the staff of 42, Raigoza would like to do more performance audits of other county departments.
“This is where you get more bang for your buck,” he said.
He is also interested in maintaining and improving relationships with the county departments for which the controller manages the books, particularly because he said that helps facilitate change.
“Making a recommendation that doesn’t get implemented doesn’t do anybody any good,” Raigoza said.
Former controller Tom Huening raised eyebrows in county government when he publicly suggested the county couldn’t afford to build a new county jail. Raigoza said the controller position is one of executing rather than making policy.
“However, that’s not to say we can’t assist in financial analysis,” he said.
Galligan said his fights would be with Sacramento rather than with local officials.
“This job means to give the numbers to the supervisors and let them make decisions,” he said.
If elected, Galligan wants to meet with the county’s top 10 revenue producers to figure out how to keep them happy. He also wants to meet individually with workers for ideas on improvements and to make sure the workers are afforded the chance to be as up to date on training as possible both for the office and their own betterment.
He sees the county as a $2 billion business and the controller’s job to manage the books. For Galligan, the job description also means being a CPA which is why he said he’s so adamant about Raigoza’s qualifications.
And as for Galligan’s insistence that he is the only qualified candidate in the race?
“I think that’s wishful thinking on his part,” Raigoza said.
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