Tuesday, November 1, 2011

About the treasurer

We were all stunned, shocked and saddened last February when former county treasurer Brenda Grubbs was arrested for embezzling public money.
As several law enforcement and regulatory agencies investigated all operations of the treasurer’s office, discussion raged over what to do next.

Some people believe that we should change to a county manager form of local government, which would place all fiscal matters under control of a county manager and the board of supervisors.

Proponents of this course contend that having a county department of finance in addition to an elected treasurer and commission of the revenue, both constitutional offices, is a duplication of efforts that wastes money.

(Elimination of the county treasurer position is a lengthy process that includes involvement of the Virginia General Assembly and approval via referendum by Goochland citizens.)

Not so fast, say supporters of our current form of local government organization. We had one bad apple, but most counties in the Commonwealth function just fine with an elected treasurer. They fear that eliminating the oversight of county funds by a treasurer elected by all voters paves the way for fiscal mischief by the supervisors.

When Pamela Johnson was appointed as interim treasurer by the Circuit Court in April, the furor got a second wind.

How could the Circuit Court appoint someone trained as an English teacher to be county treasurer? Most recently, Johnson worked with federal agencies and is quite familiar with the workings of governmental reporting policies. She also passed regular and rigorous detailed background checks in conjunction with that employment.

Folks were horrified that the interim treasurer was not an accountant or someone with advanced financial acumen.

Why should anyone leave a successful career to take a job that includes huge headaches and probably a pay cut? Younger professionals are not only working their way up career ladders, but have mortgages to pay and college educations for their children to fund.

If indeed the county changes its form of government voluntarily, or is pushed in that direction should the state cease to fund a portion of those positions, the incumbent could be unemployed in a few years.

People who have retired from high level financial positions probably are not anxious to deal with cleaning up the mess Grubbs left behind or day to day headaches.

Johnson has been working hard to get the treasurer’s office back on track and regain the public trust. She has also taken advantage of a wide range of training opportunities offered by the state to ensure that all employees are able to perform their jobs.

We are lucky that Johnson and her opponent Tana Hogue are seeking the office.

In fact, except for Commonwealth’s Attorney, which requires proof of bar membership but no evidence of prosecutorial experience, there are no qualifications to hold elected office beyond residency, age and not having assumed room temperature.

Framers of the Virginia Constitution presumably believed that only qualified people would seek office and the voters would have the wisdom to choose the best candidate.

Given the habitually low voter turnouts of local elections, it is somewhat surprising that our old friend Bret the Wonder Dog has not been elected to office.

The county treasurer is up for election every four years giving others an opportunity to challenge the incumbent and convince voters they are a better choice.

Sadly, the electorate acts as though these officials are elected for life and fail to pay attention to the performance of those they put into office.


Pat said...

Fantastic post, Sandie.

You are doing as much as anyone else to promote the discussion and conversation that is so essential to increase involvement and reduce apathy in our community. I don't always agree with your positions, but I always bless you for providing a forum for discussion and thoughtful consideration.

There hasn't been a huge clamor for Brett the Wonder Dog here in Goochland this year. I think he's holding out for Cantor's office, but write him in if you feel your choices are unacceptable. I'll be drafting him as a write-in for at least one race.

Pat said...

Went to a BoS meeting tonight and was reasonably impressed. I used to go to them all a decade ago but stopped because I became jaded by the predictability and process. A developer would come in with a proposal, the audience would be full of opponents, the BoS would delay a decision; next month half as many people, BoS would delay again, next month no opponents and the developer would trot in a handful of people in favor; the BoS would say "looks like everyone is in favor" and bang, it's approved. They actually listened to reasoned arguments from the people and made a decision on the spot in favor of the neighborhood. Impressive.

On the down side - less money next year. No way around upcoming cuts. Hope we can go at them with a little civility and fair play...