Democrats jockey for support in auditor race

Kathleen Davies

DOVER — Delaware’s auditor is an oft-overlooked position, with the officeholder generally working behind the scenes and ceding the spotlight to the governor and legislators, but every four years, the job receives more attention as candidates vow to intensify efforts to save taxpayers money.

This year, with Republican incumbent Tom Wagner not seeking reelection after 29 years in the post, that focus is even greater.

The three Democratic candidates for the position took part in a debate Monday night, seeking to make their case to a crowd of about 20. Each took a slightly different tack, although all three participants argued their experience makes them uniquely qualified for the position.

Kathy McGuiness

Kathy McGuiness

Dennis E. Williams cited his work as an accountant in the private and public sectors, while Kathleen Davies leaned on her time working for the auditor’s office in Delaware and Kathy McGuiness pointed to her background as a business owner and Rehoboth Beach commissioner.

Mr. Williams used an aggressive approach, alleging Ms. McGuiness is too closely tied to various state officials to properly do the job and challenging Ms. Davies on her termination from the auditor’s office.

“Anyone accepting the endorsements and/or financial help from elected officials, who the auditor would be responsible for auditing, under the law is compromised, is compromised and cannot do the job,” he said. “There’s independence of fact and there’s independence of appearance.

“For the people of Delaware to have confidence in their financial status, confidence in where the state money is going, confidence that these numbers are correct and that you’re looking out for the people of Delaware, you must be independent in appearance as well.”

Dennis E. Williams

Ms. McGuiness, who touts endorsements from several Democratic legislators and other officials, argued her support from members of the General Assembly would help her communicate the needs of the office to and receive support from the Legislature.

“They believe in me and they’re attaching their name to me,” she said.

Few details have come out about the situation involving Ms. Davies. She was placed on paid leave from the office for more than a year and a half before being terminated at the end of 2017. She declined to share details Monday, noting the process is still ongoing and she is legally unable to share documents related to her dismissal.

Ms. Davies, who worked for the office for six years as chief administrative auditor before being suspended, did push back against claims she leaked incomplete audits, noting her professional license has not been suspended.

Monday, she cited specific standards and practices, seeking to paint herself as the most qualified candidate and emphasizing she is the only one who has audited state entities.

The role of auditor is the “the ultimate career position” and the auditor cannot make a mistake, she said.

“It is very, very important that each and every report that goes out under the government standards, under the inspection standards, has to have the highest quality because the worst thing you can do is put out a report that is not accurate or falsely accuses someone or is not in the proper state in order to support some sort of enforcement for those that use our report after they are done,” she said.

She has been backed by the Delaware State Education Association and several legislators.

The auditor is responsible for ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent properly, although the office cannot in itself effect policy changes.

Mr. Williams, a former state representative, said he was part of a team working for the U.S. Department of the Navy that discovered defense contractors massively overcharging for routine items like toilet seats and hammers.

Ms. McGuiness argued her experience outside state government makes her best suited for the position and spoke of creating a new beginning with fresh eyes running the office.

All three candidates agreed the office faces significant staffing challenges, and both Ms. McGuiness and Mr. Williams were critical of Mr. Wagner.

“At the end of the day, we can pump out audits out of this office, like the past administration and the team has done, but if we don’t do anything with them and act upon them and follow up and make sure that the red flags are being addressed, it’s no different than … going into a restaurant and finding mice” and health officials doing nothing about it, Ms. McGuiness told the audience.

Mr. Williams said he has spoken to state employees who believe they would be ignored if they were to raise concerns about financial misconduct.

“They don’t feel that they’re necessarily being listened to or that something is going to come of what they’re reporting or that it’ll come in a timely manner,” he said.

The primary is Sept. 6. The winner will face Republican James Spadola.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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