Auditor race pits incumbent against Wake school board member

Is CPA essential to the job

abaird@newsobserver.comOctober 17, 2012 

  • More information Beth Wood (incumbent) Website: Family: Husband, Sam Sparks Education: East Carolina University, B.S. in accounting Political experience: Current state auditor Career/community involvement: Trained CPA, nationally and statewide; accounting analyst, N.C. Treasurer’s Office; assistant chief financial officer, Turner Tolson, Inc.; governmental auditing supervisor, McGladrey & Pullen CPAs; cost accountant, RayOVAC Corp. Debra Goldman Website: Family: Two children Education: Pennsylvania State University, B.A. in advertising and marketing Political experience: Wake County school board, 2010-current Career/community involvement: Experience in management, business development, staffing, procurement, sales, marketing and consulting; nationally-certified volunteer firefighter and EMT

— The question of qualifications defines the race for the state auditor post.

Democrat Beth Wood, who is seeking a second term, is a certified public accountant – an accreditation held by every state auditor in recent memory. Her Republican challenger, Debra Goldman, a member of the Wake County school board, is not.

On the campaign trail, Wood argues that her background is an absolute necessity to function effectively in the role. She says it’s impossible to know whether employees who are performing audits are doing good work and taking a reasonable amount of time without having in-depth, firsthand knowledge of the entire process.

Goldman, a first-time statewide candidate, likes to point out that the Office of the State Auditor was created during the Civil War, decades before accountants became certified.

Goldman said the office employs plenty of CPAs. She sees the key part of her job as presenting audit results to lawmakers and the public: “The state auditor needs to be a business manager and an investigator first,” she said, adding that she has reviewed audits during her time on the school board and previously in business before being elected.

Wood admits that the focus of her job is making sure state audit findings are acted on. She insists, however, that her auditing experience is invaluable to explaining exactly what is found and keeping wrongdoers in state government from brushing away reports on technicalities.

A couple recent audits performed under Wood’s direction have been lightning rods for controversy.

She released a report earlier this year claiming that top law enforcement officials in Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration violated agency policy by abusing state vehicle privileges and tried to thwart the investigation. Alcohol and Law Enforcement officials have pushed back with legal challenges, and the dispute is ongoing.

Another audit released this year slams Department of Health and Human Services contracts that promised to root out Medicaid fraud but have fallen short. Leaders from the department have said it will take time before the investment pays off, but some state lawmakers have said they plan to take a closer look when the General Assembly convenes.

Swing vote for schools

Goldman was among a group of Wake County board members elected in 2009 who put Republicans in charge of the state’s largest school district. She campaigned on issues including assigning students in her Cary district to schools in their community.

Goldman led the committee that revised the student assignment policy to eliminate the use of socioeconomic diversity, a decision that prompted protests, arrests and a federal civil rights investigation. She also led the search committee that recommended hiring retiring Army brigadier general Tony Tata as superintendent.

But Goldman parted ways with the GOP majority with a fall 2010 decision to join Democrats in blocking a new assignment plan that would have divided the county into 16 assignment zones. Goldman wasn’t re-elected to be the board vice’s chairman. Board member John Tedesco, now the Republican nominee for state schools superintendent, called Goldman a “prom queen,” a remark for which he later apologized.

Since Democrats regained the majority after the 2011 fall elections, Goldman has proclaimed herself the board’s fiscal watchdog. More recently, she’s been a vocal critic of the board majority’s decision to fire Tata.

How to combat fraud

Goldman promises to reveal widespread fraud and waste in state government by launching new investigations, though she has not provided specifics about what exactly is there or how she will add investigations with many audits required by statute and a tight budget.

Wood argues that investigations would likely reveal less waste than they would cost, and she says that big instances of fraud are already captured.

“Why wouldn’t I want to tell voters, ‘Look at this huge wasteful spending we found?’ ” Wood said.

There is a definite incumbent advantage in the race: Wood accepted $71,000 in public financing and has taken in a total of $300,000 this election cycle, while Goldman rejected state funds and has raised $8,500.

Wood is backed by the State Employees Association of North Carolina and the N.C. Association of Educators, and Goldman has support of the N.C. Troopers Association.

Staff writers Thomas Goldsmith and Keung Hui contributed.

Baird: 919-829-4696

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