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Voters may get say on elected controller
June 15, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand Daily Journal Staff

Carole Groom

Don Horsley

Voters should have the opportunity this fall to decide if the currently elected position of controller should instead be appointed for up to 12 years, according to two county supervisors who will propose the ballot measure on Tuesday.

Converting the office to an appointed position requires a two-thirds majority vote in favor of amending the county’s charter. Supervisors Carole Groom and Don Horsley will ask the full board at Tuesday’s meeting to direct County Counsel John Beiers to draft an ordinance with such a proposal.

The recommended proposal would allow the county manager to select a candidate for consideration with final approval by the Board of Supervisors. The controller would be an at-will employee who could be removed without cause or a public hearing as long as it comes with a county manager’s recommendation and a four-fifths vote of the board.

If the board approves an ordinance, the proposal will be on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal comes three months after the Board of Supervisors named assistant controller Bob Adler to the vacant position left by former controller Tom Huening’s mid-term resignation and agreed to look at the possibility of changing how the position is filled.

The controller, essentially the county’s top fiscal officer, is an elected position but the county charter allows the board to fill vacancies through either an election or appointment. The board vote 3-2, with Supervisor Dave Pine and Groom dissenting, to avoid a costly special election and let Adler finish out Huening’s term.

Now, Horsley says the county would benefit by avoiding elections altogether.

"It’s really difficult sometimes to work with elected officials because they can disregard what the board or county thinks is best,” Horsley said.

Horsley believes offices without policy-making functions should report to the county manager. He does want the position to retain some degree of independence with respect to audits which is why he suggests limiting terms to six years with a two-term maximum.

In 2010, a 17-person Charter Review Committee on which Pine sat prior to becoming a supervisor, recommended making both the controller and treasurer-tax collector appointed jobs. The board rejected the idea 5-0. Then-supervisor Rich Gordon, now a state assemblyman, disagreed — he preferred consolidation into a single CFO position — but declined to make a motion because of the other supervisors’ opposition. A majority of the Charter Review Committee also did not favor that idea.

Horsley said he’s not interested right now at considering changes to or consolidation with the treasurer position. However, he is open to restructuring the list of job requirements.

Currently, the law holds that the controller must meet at least one of several criteria: be a certified public accountant; hold a baccalaureate degree in accounting or its equivalent and not less than three years experience within the last five years in a senior management position in a public agency, private firm or nonprofit organization; be a designated professional auditor with at least 16 college semester units in accounting, auditing or finance; or have at least three years continuous service as a county auditor, chief deputy county auditor or chief assistant county auditor.

The Board of Supervisors meet 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 19 in Board Chambers, 400 County Government Center, Redwood City.

Michelle Durand can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 102.

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