Because current Controller Bob Adler has decided not to seek re-election, there is an election to fill his spot in June. The two candidates are Joe Galligan, former Burlingame mayor and CPA (certified public accountant), and current Assistant Controller Juan Raigoza.
Galligan questioned Raigoza’s qualifications, filed a lawsuit to have him removed from the ballot, but was unsuccessful in Superior Court. He then appealed the decision and lost again. Not sure these moves will win him votes. Meanwhile, Raigoza has picked up the endorsements of Tom Huening, former controller and former member of the Board of Supervisors, and Adler, the current controller. He is also being supported by Supervisor Warren Slocum, the former chief elections officer and assessor-county clerk-recorder and several city councilmembers.
This election battle is reminiscent of the contest for Lee Buffington’s job of county tax collector and treasurer, when Buffington retired. His assistant, Sandie Arnott, ran against David Mandelkern, Richard Guilbault and Galligan and won. Again qualifications were an issue. Arnott had the experience but not the credentials of the other candidates. She maintained that if she did not win she would end up training the eventual victor and basically doing his job.
Adler was appointed to his job by the Board of Supervisors in 2012, because Huening left in the middle of his term. Adler had worked as Huening’s assistant since 1998. The county charter requires that this position be elected and not appointed. What a shame! The county’s Charter Review Committee and the Board of Supervisors recommended that the positions of treasurer and controller be appointed because these are administrative, not political, positions but the voters turned it down. Perhaps one of the reasons Adler, a professional civil servant, chose to step down was that he was not interested in mounting an election campaign.
What does the controller and the assistant controller do? Answers might help in evaluating the candidates.
The controller is the county’s chief accounting officer. Duties are to properly pay all valid claims against the county, distribute property tax revenue to all cities, schools and special districts (including the county), and be responsible for all financial accounting systems. Finally, the controller has the ability to audit any department or any other governmental entity in the county that keeps its money in the county treasury.
Adler points out that the practice is quite different from private industry; the many laws, regulations and ordinances that have accumulated over the years make these tasks extremely complex and highly dependent on institutional knowledge.
The assistant controller is number two in command reporting directly to the controller. All other employees report to him. Raigoza has been in the Controller’s Office for 13 years, the last two as assistant controller. Before that he was head of the controller’s information system which manages the county’s automated accounting system and records all financial transactions involved in a $2 billion annual budget. Earlier, he headed the payroll division which processes the bi-weekly paychecks and benefits of about 10,000 full- and part-time county employees and retirees.
Galligan has been a CPA in private practice since 1980. He has volunteered his time for the past 20 years to do government certified audits for a variety of nonprofits, including Community Gatepath and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County. He was a fixture in Burlingame politics for many years and has hometown fans (as well as a few opponents). His wife Helen sits on the Peninsula Health Care District. Galligan is endorsed by Supervisor Adrienne Tissier and former supervisors John Ward and Mary Griffin. Galligan still questions whether Raigoza’s lack of a CPA credential is appropriate for a future controller.
It is difficult for the public to determine who is best qualified to hold this office. And more significant, it is difficult for the public to monitor the job performance of these individuals. That would be better left to the county manager. This important financial position should not be filled via a popularity contest. So when voters go to the polls on Election Day they really don’t know who is the best qualified. They can look at the endorsements, read the letters to the editor and the candidates’ statements or, as in a majority of cases, just not vote.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.