Alpine asks voters to alter county government
July 26, 2012
Alpine County will find a local referendum measure on their ballot this Nov. 6. The Board of Supervisors, at their July 17 meeting, unanimously adopted an ordinance “pertaining to the establishment of an appointed office of Director of Finance and subject to voter approval and enactment …” So it will be up to the voters to either affirm the action or overturn it.
The county’s fiscal structure, until recently, consisted of the office of auditor/controller and the office of treasurer/tax collector. Recently, however, the auditor/controller submitted her resignation effective May 30. Shortly thereafter the supervisors approved an ordinance to consolidate the offices of county auditor/controller and treasurer/tax collector as a temporary measure to insure that the vacated position of the auditor/controller would not negatively impact the county’s financial viability.
A committee of interested local citizens was formed to study the situation and make recommendations to the Supervisors for a permanent solution. At the July 17 meeting, the committee submitted the following statement which was approved by the committee unanimously:
“That we recommend to the Alpine County Board of Supervisors that the Alpine County auditor/controller position be made an appointed position with the title of director of finance and, further, that this position of director of finance include, at the expiration of the treasurer/tax collector’s current term of office, the position of treasurer/tax collector, and, further, that this recommendation be placed on the November 2012 ballot.”
Recent changes in federal and state mandates and regulations have made these jobs much more complex and, consequently, the qualifications needed to manage the county’s finances efficiently have increased as well. But the minimum qualifications for the elected positions of auditor/controller and treasurer/tax collector, which are set by state code, have remained minimal and are inadequate. The current system of electing financial officers from the pool of local residents severely restricts the truly qualified candidate pool in our county of 1,200 residents, and more than once there has been only one candidate running for the office. Having an appointed director of finance would allow the board of supervisors to tailor the qualifications to the responsibilities of the job and would offer the opportunity to tap into a much wider pool of qualified applicants.
The current situation is that while the supervisors have the primary responsibility for the County as a whole, they have no say as to who manages the county finances or whether or not the people holding the positions are doing an adequate job. Consolidating the financial offices will also allow for some administrative efficiencies although the committee indicated that they think a more thorough external audit will also be advisable.
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Flaws, errors, nonperforming financial systems, missed deadlines, and bad decisions can have near-instantaneous and draconian repercussions that fall not only on the financial official but also on the supervisors and the county as a whole. At worst, they can drive the county into bankruptcy with astonishing rapidity impacting every one of us. When fiscal officers are elected the only recourse in the event of malpractice is to call for a resignation, which may or may not happen, or to recall the officer, a process which not only is bitter and divisive but which also takes many months to accomplish. During the interim untold damage can result. In contrast, with an appointed fiscal officer the Supervisors can terminate the officer immediately if problems arise.
It is the sincere hope of the supervisors and members of the committee that the public will read, listen, ask questions and, ultimately, support this long term solution to address the financial processes of the county.
Submitted by Ballot Referendum Committee members David Griffith, Eric Jung, Steve Hibbs, Joyce DeVore, Shirley Taylor, Jim Holdridge, Kris Hartnett and Nancy Thornburg,