Sonoma County voters are being asked to do something in the June 3 election that they have never done before — decide between two candidates for county auditor-controller-treasurer-tax-collector.
It has been 20 years since voters last saw a contest for county auditor-controller, and 16 years since they last selected between two candidates for treasurer-tax collector.
The two jobs were consolidated in 2006 under Rod Dole, the longtime auditor-controller. After his retirement in 2011, the Board of Supervisors appointed David Sundstrom, the former auditor-controller of Orange County.
Now Sundstrom, a career government official with little local name recognition, faces a challenge from Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky, a better-known but polarizing political figure who enjoys a sizable fundraising advantage.
To date the contest has generated little public buzz, but with the first of two planned debates Wednesday in Cotati, and both candidates sharpening their rhetoric, that may be about to change.
Sundstrom, 61, cites his 35 years in public service, on-the-job experience and professional credentials as reasons voters should trust him to continue managing the county's $1.3 billion budget and $1.5 billion in investments. He calls Wysocky too inexperienced and too political for the position.
"The idea that a significantly unqualified person can get the job is not good," Sundstrom said.
Wysocky, 57, stresses his track record of vigilant oversight on the City Council, experience as a private CPA and willingness to question the status quo as reasons voters should back his candidacy. He paints Sundstrom as a Republican and life-long bureaucrat with a questionable track record in Orange County.
"He's a 35-year government guy. How independent is he going to be?" said Wysocky, a Democrat and two-term city councilman.
The job of auditor-controller-treasurer-tax-collector has historically attracted few political rivalries, unlike other elected positions, such as supervisor or district attorney.
It involves a range of administrative duties, including collecting and apportioning property taxes, managing how the county, cities, school districts invest their money and auditing county departments and special districts to ensure they are complying with financial standards and safeguards.
"It may be elected, but it is a functionary office," said Tom Ford, who retired as treasured-tax collector in 2006 and is supporting Sundstrom.
The office has no ability to set policy and has little say over the county budget, he said. Sundstrom's salary in 2013 was $215,935, significantly more than the supervisors, who earn $135,969.
Many counties in the state have opted to just appoint someone to the top financial position. Sonoma County administrators in 2012 proposed just that, but the Board of Supervisors rejected the idea out of concern that it could reduce the independence of the post at a time of significant public scrutiny of the county's finances, particularly its soaring pension obligations.
Sundstrom, who served three terms as the elected auditor-controller in Orange County, stayed out of the debate in 2012. When hired, he pledged that he would run for office in 2014 or apply for appointment. He had long been a vocal supporter of such positions remaining elected, he said.