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Voters in control of controller
June 20, 2012, 05:00 AM By Michelle Durand, Daily Journal Staff
County voters will decide this fall if the currently elected controller position should instead be converted into a two-term appointment, a decision reached after county supervisors slightly quibbled over the job’s preferred qualifications.

The Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed yesterday to place on the Nov. 6 ballot a charter change amendment that, if passed by a two-thirds majority, will change the controller position to an appointed position. The controller is essentially the county’s top fiscal officer and, according to Supervisor Don Horsley, more an administrative than policy-making position.

If passed, the measure will add San Mateo County to nine of 58 other counties with appointed controllers. Of those, six have consolidated departments of finance including the controller, treasurer and tax collector and nearly all have switched fairly recently, said County Counsel John Beiers.

Supervisor Dave Pine suggested looking at a similar consolidation in the future but kept most of his focus yesterday on a proposed requirement that the controller have a degree in accounting or equivalent. Pine maintained a perfectly acceptable applicant could have an actual degree in something like engineering but have developed solid financial skills as a CFO or similar job during his or her career.

Supervisor Carole Groom, who submitted the charter change proposal along with Horsley, said the idea is opening the door to younger possibilities with "a combination of experience and new ideas rather than somebody 30 years into their career.”

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.

The proposed change to appointment would exceed the minimum qualifications by adding that being designated a professional internal auditor and/or experience as a county auditor would not be sufficient. The committee also recommends candidates have knowledge of public administration principles and practices, budgeting, fiscal administration and effective personal administration, employee relations and management in a public setting.

Ultimately, Pine did not push the degree issue and the board unanimously directed Beiers to draw up the ordinance as proposed by Horsley and Groom. Namely, the charter change 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 can 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.

The Board of Supervisors began looking at the possibility of changing the office after naming  assistant controller Bob Adler to the vacant position left by former controller Tom Huening’s mid-term resignation. In 2010, a 17-person Charter Review Committee recommended making both the controller and treasurer-tax collector appointed jobs but county supervisors unanimously rejected the idea.

Beiers will bring the ordinance back for a vote at the July 10 meeting. Placing the measure on the ballot will cost approximately $40,000.

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

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