Divided board appoints new county controller
• Supervisors may support ballot measure to make controller an appointive position in future.
A divided San Mateo County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday appointed longtime county employee Bob Adler to fill the remaining term of county controller, vacated when Tom Huening announced he will retire effective March 31.
The county controller is an elective position that the supervisors said will be especially important in the coming year as the county tries to deal with the dissolution of local redevelopment agencies. Much of the funds that had gone to city redevelopment agencies will now go through the county.
Supervisors had three choices at their March 13 meeting: to appoint a successor to fill the 2-1/2 years remaining in Mr. Huening's term; to begin a competitive process to fill the position; or to set an election to fill the position.
Board president Adrienne Tissier said that Mr. Adler will fill the position "with someone who understands the county — who knows the nuts and bolts of the department. We are going through some difficult fiscal times."
Even the two supervisors who voted against the appointment, Dave Pine and Carole Groom, expressed support for Mr. Adler. However, Mr. Pine said, "I feel a strong obligation to make the process public and to invite other candidates."
The supervisors also expressed interest in having the controller's job be an appointive rather than elective position. Such a change would require a public vote to amend the county charter. The supervisors asked the county's attorneys to come back to next month's meeting with possible ballot language for such a change.
The Leagues of Women Voters of San Mateo County had asked the supervisors to make an appointment rather than hold an election, which could have cost the county as much as $1.7 million for a special election, or as little as $40,000 if added to the November ballot.
The league had also suggested in a letter to the board that "the county charter should be changed to make this position one that is appointed by the county manager. This job requires substantial financial knowledge and expertise." The letter said the position "of county auditor-controller is an administrative, not a policy-making position."
Supervisor Don Horsley suggested the controller could be appointed for a set term to allow the person holding the position independence from the board of supervisors.
The controller oversees 42 accountants, auditors and others providing financial services to county departments, public agencies, special districts, cities and the school districts.
Mr. Adler, 57, has served as assistant controller since 1998, and worked for the county since 1995, starting as the audit chief. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, with a degree in biology and from Golden Gate University with a master's degree in public accounting. He is also a certified public accountant.
Before coming to San Mateo County he worked for Marin County and Ernst & Young.
He lives in Redwood City.