In Thurston County, the auditor plays an important and multi-faceted role. First and foremost, the auditor is the county’s chief financial officer, as well as its chief elections officer, its licensing agent and the county recorder of all real estate documents.
The Thurston County auditor’s office has set a high standard for the state’s other 38 counties, having received the Government Finance Officers Association award for excellence in financial reporting eight times, six of those consecutively since 2006. Most counties have never received the award.
Other counties hold the Thurston office in high esteem for that reason, and because the last two auditors — Sam Reed and Kim Wyman — have gone on to become Washington’s secretary of state.
When Wyman was elected to statewide office last year, the County Commission appointed Deputy Auditor Gary Alexander to the position on an interim basis until this fall’s election. Mary Hall is challenging Alexander for the position, and whoever wins must run again next year for a full four-year term.
Due to challenging economic conditions in the near-term, the county will benefit from experienced and strong financial management. For that reason, The Olympian editorial board endorses Gary Alexander.
ALEXANDER VS. HALL
The County Commission made a wise choice in appointing Gary Alexander to fill the vacancy created by Wyman’s election to state office. He is exceptionally qualified with 12 years’ experience as the county’s deputy auditor, 25 years as a budget and program manager in state government, and time in the private sector as a chief financial officer and industrial engineer.
As the manager of the county’s financial services, he deserves credit for the unprecedented, in this state, string of national recognition awards for excellence in financial management.
Thurston County’s finances haven’t always been in such good shape. As the recession ate away at the county’s reserves in 2008, Alexander proposed 14 principles for good fiscal health that commissioners adopted in 2009. The measures swelled county reserves from $6.5 million to $18.4 million in 2011.
We’re concerned that county spending is again exceeding revenue, and that commissioners will dip too deeply into its general fund reserves. Having an experienced financial officer in the auditor’s office is essential.
Challenger Mary Hall is a good candidate with strong technical skills. She would apply those toward upgrading the county’s obsolete systems and innovative voting technology.
Hall also has a strong vision for partnering with schools to educate young, future voters, and instill them with a voting habit. She might also bring a warmer style to the auditor’s office.
But Hall lacks the breadth and depth of Alexander’s financial experience and all-round knowledge of the many duties of an auditor. She has served for 16 years in a narrow role as Pierce County’s elections supervisor. That’s not enough to take on the critical responsibility as the county’s chief financial officer.
Alexander has restructured the auditor’s office to reduce expenses. He eliminated his former job — deputy auditor — in order to reinstate the internal auditor position that Wyman had eliminated. Hall would have to rehire a deputy auditor because she lacks Alexander’s financial experience.
Democrats would like to wrest control of the auditor’s office from Republicans, who have had it for more than 30 years. They have seized upon a pair of minor state audit findings to undermine Alexander’s record. It’s a weak tactic that voters should ignore.
Hall makes the mistake of following the party line and charges Alexander with “negligence.” That’s a strong word in the financial world and it’s completely unwarranted here. It exposes Hall’s misunderstanding of the unqualified (less serious) audit opinion with one low-level finding.
Alexander is the best-qualified candidate for this position. He deserves an elected term, upon which voters can assess his performance again next fall.