Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Steve Barron for Norco Controller: It's Time for a Fresh Face

If you drive by the Bethlehem home of Meg Holland, CPA/ABV, CVA, CIA, you'll see something a little surprising - a Steve Barron for County Controller yard sign. Given Meg's superb qualifications, and the fact that she's a Republican, that sign says plenty about Steve.

Steve is challenging Northampton County's long-time controller, John T. Schimmel, who's seeking a fourth term to this part-time, $39,000 per year, position. Schimmel is also the accountant for Easton Area Joint Sewer Authority and maintains a private practice as a public accountant.

In addition to his pleasant personality, Schimmel has been an effective controller. His office undergoes a "quality control review" every three years by The National Association of Local Government Auditors, and has always been found in compliance with government auditing standards.

But twelve years is long enough for one person to be in that office. According to the county website, the controller's office is "independent of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government." After having been in office so long, can Schimmel still really claim he's independent?

In contrast, Steve Barron can give taxpayers a fresh set of eyes looking at the books. Even more importantly, he brings plenty of new ideas.

1. He's qualified. - Barron's strong academic background includes a law degree from Widener, experience working on audits when employed by the State of Delaware, and his current experience managing finances at three assisted-living facilities.

2. He's independent. - Although currently a member of the Democratic committee, he told me he'd resign that position if he's elected. In fact, he told me it's "unfortunate that such an independent office has to be part of the partisan process." Unlike party machine candidates (Branco, Maher and McClure), Barron has stayed away from their political consultant, who's known for running sleaze campaigns.

3. He'll be full time. - Barron believes a controller who examines a budget that is quickly approaching $400 million annually, needs to be there all day, every day. And he's right. The county has thirty-three different payment locations, and needs a full-time controller. In contrast, Schimmel recently refused to insist on an extra auditor because they'd have nowhere to put him. ''Frankly, this is one of the most important functions in the county. These are the people who independently represent the taxpayers and make sure things are audited and dollars are spent right. I don't want to hear there's no room for a desk,'' was how Ron Angle responded, showing just a tad more concern over the controller's office than the controller himself.

4. He'll audit. - Many county offices have gone unaudited for many years, but Barron wants to change that. He's pledged to audit every county office, at least once, during his four year tenure. Currently, outside auditors dictate much of what the controller's office does. Perhaps that needs to change.

5. He's accessible. - The proof of that is that Barron spoke with me, and everybody knows I'm a miserable bastard. "I believe that even private citizens can ask for audits when they feel that money is not being spent appropriately. When they write that check to pay their tax bill, they have the right to feel they have ownership. My office will be a watchdog for the people's security."
As much as I admire Schimmel, I think it's time for a change at the helm in the controller's office, and will be voting for Steve Barron on November 6. I also want to compliment both candidates for running a clean, issues-oriented, campaign.


A.J. Cordi said...

Bernie, I'm not sure who I'm voting for here. Both seem like good guys to me.

I think Schimmel is doing a decent job. And like you said, he is always in good standing with the auditors. Perhaps this phrase will help you understand my view: "If it isn't broken, don't fix it." Is Schimmel broken?

I think the only thing that bugs me is that he's receving $39,000 for a "part-time" position. Perhaps there is more behind that, but I dunno... this one's gonna be tough!

BethlehemDem said...

Barron is a good guy and will be a fine controller.

AJ, from what I understand after hearing Steve talk about the race is that Schimmel could be doing more. Additional audits and fraud prevention would have caught the stealing the in Clerk's office.

Controller has been a part time postion, Steve wants to be a full-time controller. He does not want to change the county charter, he will just do the job full time for the current pay. (which Steve says is still a raise for him)

This is different than when Morganelli ran for DA on a platform for a full-time DA. He wanted the charter changed, which it eventually was changed to allow for full-time pay to go along with the new full-time DA position.

Anonymous said...

There was a proposal passed by Council last year to raise the pay to 55K. It was vetoed by Stoffa. That salary would have allowed the job to become potentially full time at a more realistic wage. It should be a full time job.

A.J. Cordi said...

$39,000 isn't a reasonable amount of money?

I'd do that job full-time for much less than that!

WindGapper said...

I had no clue about this race until I visited the Pen Argyl Concerned Citizens candidates' night. I wouldn't have known Barron if I quite literally ran into him (and I am clumsy...)

Barron really impressed me too. He was very positive and dignified and was the last candidate to leave, allowing all of us to question him on the way out. He and Schimmel were neck and neck as far as debating until Schimmel made that derogatory comment about $39,000 being too little to work full-time. He made it sound like the controller position is a great side gig for him, but not worthy of full-time attention. In light of what has been going on at the courthouse with the embezzling issues, I don't see how this office can be part-time any longer.

I went into this completely impartially and Barron has definitely earned my vote.

Just my 2 cents on the whole thing :)

Bernie O'Hare said...

This is why that Pen Argyl debate is such a good thing.