Should county controller be appointed or elected? | October 24, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


News - October 24, 2012

Should county controller be appointed or elected?

• Measure C allows voters to alter process of choosing county controller.

by Dave Boyce

With San Mateo County government in its fifth year of annual workshops on the county's structural deficit, and with more workshops expected in coming years, Measure C on the Nov. 6 ballot offers voters an opportunity to weigh in on a related issue: Should the county's chief accountant be elected, as is currently the case, or appointed by the county manager, subject to approval by a super majority — four of the five members — of the Board of Supervisors?

The supervisors put Measure C on the ballot. They oppose the current system of electing this official, known formally as the county controller, and support an appointment process. The measure would also raise standards of eligibility for the position of controller and restrict the appointment to a maximum of two consecutive six-year terms.

The Voter Information Pamphlet shows no opposition to Measure C. Signing the ballot argument in favor were the presidents of the county's League of Women Voters chapters, Jacqueline Jacobberger and Lisa Conrad; supervisors Don Horsley and Carole Groom; and Bob Adler, the current controller appointed by the board in March 2012 after longtime controller Tom Huening retired.

"These are particularly challenging and confusing economic times," the ballot argument says. "Now more than ever we need an experienced professional overseeing taxpayer funds. Please join us in supporting this measure."

The Almanac asked the two candidates running for an open seat on the Board of Supervisors where they stood.

The office might have improved efficiency and performance under an appointed controller, said candidate Warren Slocum. "(I)n these complex times, I don't think we should play politics with the county's checkbook," he added. "Countywide elections are expensive (and) going through that process doesn't guarantee the taxpayers would be served by the most financially qualified individual."

"While only four of 58 counties currently have an appointed controller, it is a technical position that should be hired based on qualifications and expertise rather than ability to run a campaign," candidate Shelly Masur told the Almanac. "Controllers do not have voting, policy or budgeting authority; rather, they fill an important functional position that would benefit from the kind of careful vetting of qualifications that comes from an interview and hiring process."