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ELECTIONS / AUDITOR-CONTROLLER : One Touts Long Experience, One Independence : Campaign: Mahon has been in or near the job 22 years, but Morrisset says an outsider will better serve the people.

October 31, 1994|CARLOS V. LOZANO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Thomas Mahon says the biggest advantage he has over his opponent in the Ventura County auditor-controller's race is on-the-job experience.

After serving as assistant auditor for 21 years, Mahon was appointed to the top post in 1993 by the Board of Supervisors.

"I know the job," Mahon said.

But his opponent, tax accountant and attorney Richard Morrisset, says Mahon himself is the problem. Morrisset said Mahon has worked in the auditor-controller's office so long that he has become part of the county bureaucracy.

"The auditor-controller should be a taxpayer advocate, and I don't think Thomas Mahon is," Morrisset said. "Can he do it? Yes. Has he done it in the past? No. Does it need to be done? Absolutely."

Morrisset, 41, questioned how Mahon could remain impartial when he has accepted campaign contributions from such county officials as Supervisor Maggie Kildee, Sheriff Larry Carpenter and Dist. Atty. Mike Bradbury, all of whom are subject to audits.

"I think you really have to have some distance between you and the people you audit," Morrisset said.

Mahon, 71, said he believes the support he has received from these officials represents nothing but the confidence they have in his abilities.

"I think it's an indication of the trust they have in me and the way I run this office," he said.

Morrisset disagrees, saying he believes the contributions compromise Mahon's objectivity.

"One of the principal precepts of a certified public accountant is that whenever you perform an audit, you must be completely independent of the person or company you are auditing," said Morrisset, who owns an accounting firm in Camarillo. Otherwise, he said, there's a risk of conflict of interest.

For this reason, Morrisset has declined to take campaign contributions from county officials and anyone else who may be subject to a county audit.

He also issued a challenge to Mahon to join him in placing a $15,000 campaign spending cap on their Nov. 8 runoff, a challenge Mahon declined.

Mahon has spent $46,758 on his campaign, $25,000 of that during the primary, according to reports released last week. He said he wants the flexibility to spend whatever it takes to educate the public about the job of the county auditor-controller and about his own performance.

"I think it's important that people have a better understanding of the job before they vote," he said.

The county's chief financial official monitors revenues and expenditures, conducts department audits, prepares the county's payroll and budget, and supervises a staff of 72.

The last contested election for the auditor-controller's job, which pays $124,000 annually in salary and benefits, was in 1970.

In the June primary election, Mahon initially faced five opponents. But his chief rival, Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton, was eventually disqualified from the race because he did not meet all the legal requirements for the job.

The other three candidates, all certified public accountants, have thrown their support behind Morrisset in the general election, while Stratton has endorsed Mahon.

"Let's not change horses just for the sake of change," Stratton said in endorsing Mahon. "To replace him with another accountant who will have to learn all the different rules of government accounting just does not make sense."

Mahon's experience aside, Morrisset said the incumbent is still lacking in his qualifications for the job. He pointed out that Mahon is not a CPA and for this reason is not able to sign county audits.

Due to a complaint filed by one of Mahon's challengers in the June primary, the state Board of Accountancy informed Mahon that he is not authorized to sign county audits. The board has advised Mahon to have one of his staff members sign the audits.

"That to me is in essence saying he's not qualified to perform one of the major functions of the auditor-controller's job," Morrisset said. "I want somebody who is qualified to do the job."

Mahon said he contacted the attorney general's office about the discrepancy and as a result, the introductory language in the county audit reports has been changed to allow him to sign the documents. He said he has continued to sign audits since the complaint against him was filed in June.

"I have been doing it and will continue to do it," he said. "The law's on my side."

However, Lawrence M. Knapp, an investigator with the state Board of Accountancy, told The Times that Mahon is not legally authorized to sign audits. Knapp notified Mahon in a letter June 6 to discontinue the practice.

"Only licensed public accountants or certified public accountants can perform auditing services in California," Knapp stated in his letter. "Our records do not indicate that you are licensed by this board. . . . As an alternative to signing such reports yourself, we recommend that a board-licensed member of your staff sign the audits issued by your office."

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