Treasurer-Auditor Candidate Mason Blasts County On Office Consolidations

(April 29) Ensen Mason is challenging incumbent county treasurer-tax collector-auditor-controller Larry Walker in this year’s election, Mason said, “because I don’t think the job is being done well. There is a  lot of corruption and financial mismanagement in county government. The responsibility for that should have fallen to the auditor-controller. These issues need to be made public. I think he is doing a horrible job in connecting with the people he is elected to serve. If you walked into a room full of people and asked each of them who among them had heard from him, zero would say they have had any word from him. A vital role is connecting with people.”
The county is seeing an inadequate return on the money it is investing under Walker’s watch, Mason said.
“The main problem is we have an extremely lazy investment policy stance,” Mason said. “The job of the tax collector is to collect the money and deposit it properly. The treasurer is responsible for depositing that money, accounting for it and then investing it wisely so that it grows properly or at least keeps pace with inflation. The county has a triple A credit rating, which sounds good, but that rating comes at a huge cost. We are basically getting no return on our money. We are getting very little return on our investment tools. We are sitting on short term instruments. The county’s money should be invested prudently and safely, but we should be seeing a decent return on our investments given the amounts involved. Prudence and a good return are not mutually exclusive functions.”
Mason continued, “The controller has an accounting function, which is supposed to focus on reporting and maintaining transparency. The auditor is usually responsible for keeping an eye on the other three people. The auditor reviews the controller’s reports and offers an opinion on the validity and accuracy of the information provided. Unfortunately, the way the county has designed it, the person in the position of keeping an eye on the others serves in the capacity of those entities having an eye kept on them.”
Mason said he believed that Walker has done a reasonably decent job in his function as treasurer, but has lagged behind with regard to his duties as treasurer, auditor and controller.
“I think he has done alright as far as collecting and receiving and counting and then depositing the money in the right place, at least as far as I can tell,” Mason said. “I do not think I would change very much in that regard.”
It was in the other three arenas, that Mason said his major differences with Walker lie.
If elected, Mason said he would depart from the county’s current investment policy.
“I would invest in a conservative portfolio that would return a reasonable rate,” Mason said in describing his difference with the treasurer’s office policy under Walker.
Mason said he had an even more substantial difference with Walker in regard to the merging of the functions of the tax collector treasurer with those of the auditor controller. In 1998, Walker, who was then Fourth District County supervisor, successfully ran for the post of auditor-controller/recorder. He was reelected to that post in 2002 and 2006. During that period, the position of treasurer-tax collector was an independently elected position. Prior to the 2010 election, the county moved to consolidate the treasurer-tax collector position with that of the auditor-controller, appointing Walker to replace former treasurer-tax collector Dick Larsen, and subsequently moving the recorder function into the assessor’s office, which is also an independently elected post.
Despite the objections of many at the time that the merger represented an unwise consolidation of duties, Walker consented to the change and seamlessly made the transition. Mason ran against Walker in the 2010 election, the first time where the voters were asked to elect one person to fill the consolidated treasurer tax collector auditor controller position. Walker, running as the incumbent garnered 128,033 votes, or 70.94 percent to Mason’s 52,445 votes, or 29.06 percent.
Four years later, Mason is engaging Walker in a rematch, looking for a different outcome based upon his belief that the county’s residents have had an opportunity to consider the disadvantage in having the county treasurer serving as a watchdog over himself. In this way, he is anxious to remind voters that Walker embraced the consolidation.
“They [the county board of supervisors] should not have done that,” Mason said. “By doing that they have lost an important check and balance. They eliminated one elected position from the county roster of officials chosen by the voters. Instead of having more accountability in the system to more people, you have less. That was a mistake. They could have redrawn the elective duties in a different way that did not give one person essentially all of the monetary collection, depositing, investing and accounting authority. This could have been done in a way that would have made more sense without eliminating the individual and independent layers of accountability.  If  I were elected, I would advocate having the auditor controller separated from the treasurer tax collector.
In examining the merger and Walker’s acquiescence in it, Mason said,”You have to look at his motivation. He received something like a $70,000 to $80,000 bump in pay when this reorganization went through. Did he think this was a good idea or did he just want to get paid more? The transition does not make sense from the standpoint of better accountability and accounting integrity. It only makes sense from the standpoint that somebody was going to make more money from doing it that way.”
Mason said voters should consider the implication of the consolidation as well as the degree to which accountability in the handling of the taxpayer’s money has been compromised, Mason said.
“The main difference between us is that I would not have accepted the merger,” Mason said. “I would have greater connectivity with the people. No one is listening to what the community has to offer. I think that should be changed. If I am elected, I would serve as the administrative head of all four departments, but I would separate myself from them and make sure that all four functions are independent of one another. If you are going to have those functions combined, they should be independent and the people overseeing them should be separate. They should be run as you would run separate companies, with separate oversight. You should have independent department heads who can have no influence over one another, to ensure the public’s interest is well cared for.”
In assessing why he makes a superior choice to Walker, Mason said,
“Honestly, I am the one legally qualified to do the job based upon the requirements. Look at the qualifications to run for this office. There are six specific ones. Mr. Walker would not be able to run for this position if he was not the incumbent. To run for this post, you need to be a CPA or have a bachelor’s degree in accounting. He has neither of those qualifications. That says something about whether he should be there in the first place. The only reason he is treasurer is he was on the board a long time before and he was appointed to the treasurer-tax collector position by the board of supervisors when it made the mistake of folding those roles into the auditor controller’s office. That is the only way someone without the qualifications could get into that position. If you ask him, he will tell you he is not a CPA and that he does not have a degree in accounting.”
Mason graduated from Piscataway  High School in New Jersey and received his undergraduate degree from Western Governors University in Salt Lake City. He also has an MBA in finance from the University of Redlands. He is currently employed as a certified public accountant and financial advisor. He formerly worked as a program system analyst for Boeing. He is a single father.

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