Board Elevates Valdez To Be Tax Collector Controller, Treasurer & Auditor

The board of supervisors this week selected an employee with 16 years of varied experience in the auditor/controller and treasury divisions to succeed Larry Walker as county auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector.
Oscar Valdez, who began his career with the county auditor-controller’s office in 2000 and in 2006 transferred to the county’s treasurer-tax division when those were entirely separate operations, and since their merger in 2010 has served as one of Walker’s top assistants, will succeed Walker on March 5.
The need for Valdez’s promotion emerged last month when Walker unexpectedly announced his retirement just 13 months into his fourth term as auditor controller. The move is a curious one because he had indicated he intended to remain in the auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector’s office for the full duration of the four-year term when he sought reelection in 2014.
Of late, there have been indications of a stepped-up federal investigation into irregularities throughout San Bernardino County’s government structure following two decades in which at least 22 high ranking county officials have been indicted, charged, or convicted of corruption, embezzlement, bribery, extortion, fraud or graft in their official capacities, including three members of the board of supervisors, two of their chiefs of staff, a previous county treasurer-tax collector, his chief investment officer and two of the county’s highest ranking executive officers. There were strong suggestions that federal investigators had latched onto several instances in which lapses in Walker’s oversight as county auditor had allowed questionable activity to flourish, as well as his hiring and elevation of one of the indicted county supervisor’s chief of staff, Matt Brown, to the position of assistant auditor controller despite Brown’s known involvement in a political money laundering scheme.
Of note is that the board considered – but ultimately rejected – elevating Brown to the auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector position now being vacated by Walker, who before being elected auditor-controller-recorder in 1998 had served as Second District county supervisor for 12 years and was Chino mayor and a council member prior to that.
After Walker announced his intended retirement, the board of supervisors designated two of its members, chairman of the board James Ramos and Robert Lovingood, to serve as an ad hoc selection committee.
According to Ramos, there were 17 applicants for the position. A cursory consideration determined that nine met the basic qualifications for the post, which entail either possessing a valid certificate authorizing the person to practice as, a certified public accountant or as a public accountant; or having a four-year degree in in accounting or its equivalent; or having served in a senior fiscal management position with a public agency, a private firm, or a nonprofit organization, dealing with fiscal responsibilities for a continuous period of not less than three years; or possessing a certificate issued by the Institute of Internal Auditors showing the person to be a designated professional Internal auditor; or having 16 college semester units, or their equivalent, in accounting, auditing, or finance; or having served as county auditor, chief deputy county auditor, or chief assistant county auditor for a continuous period of not less than three years; and either having served in a senior financial management position in a public agency for a continuous period of not less than three years; or possessing a valid baccalaureate, masters, or doctoral degree from an accredited college or university in business administration, public administration, economics, finance or accounting; or having a valid certificate issued by the California Board of Accountancy authorizing that person to practice as, a certified public accountant; or possessing a valid charter issued by the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts showing the person to be designated a chartered financial analyst or possessing a valid certificate issued by the Treasury Management Association showing the person to be designated a certified cash manager.
“We found that nine of the applications met the qualifications,” said Ramos. “The ad hoc committee deliberated over those nine applications  and we decided to interview five. We are one of the few counties in California that have both [treasurer and auditor] of those responsibilities in one office. We did do the interview with the five members and we deliberated back and forth.”
Ensen Mason, a certified public accountant who ran against Walker in 2010, receiving 52,445 votes, and again opposed him in 2014, receiving 37,183 votes, was not one of the the applicants interviewed.
“I wasn’t interviewed,” Mason told the Sentinel. “I think they were wrong for not interviewing candidates in public. This is one of the most important decisions the board will make. Why were the process and the candidates all kept secret from the public?”
David Wert, the county’s official spokesman, told the Sentinel, “The ad hoc committee chose to select for interviews only those applicants who had executive-level experience managing finances and investments for large public and private-sector organizations.”
Ramos said, “There was an individual that we feel that if appointed and our colleagues agree with us that can move forward and [maintain] the stability of the organization of San Bernardino County. In moving forward this recommendation does not preclude anyone from running for this office in an open election process. [T]he nomination for our fellow board members to appoint as auditor treasurer controller is Mr Oscar Valdez. We’re in agreement we went though an extensive vetting process and this is our recommendation. Mr. Valdez was really understanding of the complexities not just here in San Bernardino County but with the Inland Valley Development Authority, the San Bernardino International Airport Authority and the ongoing areas of Ontario International Airport and the different things that go on with the Local Agency Formation Commission. That role that we are recommending he be appointed to plays a vital role to other agencies, school districts, community colleges, because during the different financial obligations the county is looked upon to loan certain moneys out. Another thing for me was his understanding the innovations and technology that we are implementing in San Bernardino County. Those are some of, but not all of, the high points of why I make my recommendation for Mr. Oscar Valdez.”
Lovingood emphasized that Valdez was already in place as one of Walker’s senior assistants and thus would readily be able to handle the exchange of the four different sub-department reins.
“When we looked at this, there were candidates that were qualified, but from the standpoint of being seamless in that transition and immediate, that wasn’t there,” Lovingood said. “Really, when you look at the responsibility, there were two clear individuals who had basically the same range of financial responsibility within each area. Then we had two individuals who did not quite have the experience but had had significant financial responsibilities within a public organization. We had a potential relocation [with one of the other leading candidates]. You had some challenges within there and I think it is too critical to risk breaking that transition. That’s why we moved forward, based on the timing of Mr. Walker’s resignation.”
Ramos emphasized that Valdez was “a longtime employee working with the auditor controller treasurer, working with Mr. Larry Walker, making a lot of those calculations and coming up with a lot of them. He had workability on the retirement board and the San Bernardino County Employees Retirement Association and being familiar with those calculations, being familiar with the investment policies… his familiarity with the county, not only now but in prior years’ budgets. He brought that expertise to us.”
Ramos said, “We do believe Mr. Valdez has that knowledge, has been working with the current controller, Mr. Larry Walker, on many of these  financial projections and being able to see the innovations and where we are going in San Bernardino County, being familiar with those implementations, for me I decided to move forward with him.”
The board voted 5-0 to appoint Valdez.
After the vote, Valdez told the board, “I am very honored and humbled for this opportunity. I am also grateful to you for you taking me into consideration and acknowledging and basically having the confidence in me to take this responsibility. As the auditor controller treasurer tax collector I will make sure that this department is run with integrity, with independent judgment, also making sure we run this department with clear transparency and efficiency. I will dedicate myself to make sure that I run this office tirelessly to make sure that we run this department to meet the services of all the various county departments, all of the constituents, all of the various taxing agencies throughout the county of San Bernardino. Early on in life I learned the importance of the American Dream, basically the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, as a young boy. I was actually born in Mexico and my mom gave up her dream in Mexico. She was a school teacher and married my step dad who was an auto worker in Michigan. So we moved to Michigan, things didn’t work out and my mother divorced my dad. We moved around during those times. We took the opportunity to basically use the welfare system in order to transition, but for those very brief moments to make sure we were getting housing and moving on. During that time my mother also instilled the importance of respecting other people’s property, being thoughtful and respectful of others. I think I have really lived the American dream. It’s been a struggle at times with the family but she also instilled the importance of an education. In regards to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I definitely took on the additional commitment. Right after high school I joined the military, became a paratrooper and spent four months in Desert Storm. So I’ve learned a lot. I’ve taken a lot of training. I’ve learned basically to lead by example and not leave anyone behind. So I will definitely make sure this department is not left behind or any of the residents of this county. So, you have my commitment this department is run efficiently.”

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