Q&A: State auditor candidates address the issues

Name: Kathleen K. McGuiness

Party: Democrat

Office seeking: State auditor of accounts

Age: 51

Occupation: Certified fraud examiner, licensed pharmacist, licensed Realtor

Family: Married with three children

Elective experience: I am serving my 17th year as an elected Rehoboth Beach commissioner, serving on Rehoboth’s Personnel, Tourism, Budget and Finance committees.

 

Name: James Spadola

Party: Republican

Office seeking: Auditor

Age: 35

Occupation: Director of Partnerships for Coded by Kids, named deputy state auditor this month

Family: Parent of rescue dog Hoss

Elective experience: Vice-chairman of the Wilmington Housing Authority

Why are you running for this office?

KM: As auditor, you have to make sure that the numbers add up, you can manage an office of professionals and you know how government works. For nearly two decades, I have served as a Rehoboth Beach commissioner. During my tenure, I have worked closely with members of the General Assembly, multiple state Agencies and served on the board of trustees for Delaware State University.

Recently, my oversight of the new Rehoboth City Hall construction project saved taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a commissioner, I have fought waste, fraud and abuse and continuously advocate for efficiency, transparency and good government. We need an effective leader, manager and motivator now more than ever, and my unique background is perfectly suited to serve as Delaware’s state auditor of accounts.

JS: I am running for this office to continue my life as a public servant, and because it suits my background well. The auditor is Delaware’s fiscal watchdog, and I have been a watchdog and public servant nearly all my life. I joined the Army Reserve after 9/11 and had to drop out of my sophomore year at the University of Delaware to serve a year in Iraq. I was a Newark police officer for nearly a decade and investigated countless financial crimes, frauds, felonies, and misdemeanors. I am the only candidate that has investigated people for fraud, arrested people for fraud, and worked with the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute people for fraud. The auditor works closely with the Attorney General’s Office so having that experience is critical.

In addition to my investigative background, I also have a strong financial background. I was an underwriting manager in Manhattan who supervised teams of underwriters that loaned millions of dollars to small business owners. I was a union treasurer. I am a University of Delaware graduate with an MBA from Wilmington University. I am also the vice-chairman of the Wilmington Housing Authority and I serve on the finance committee.

With Tom Wagner (whose support I have) retiring, the independence of the office is at stake. Democrats in Delaware control the governor’s office, the state House and the state Senate. Many Democrats have expressed their concern to me about a fellow Democrat monitoring other Democrats, and I agree with them: The auditor should come from outside the ruling party.

What would be your top priority if elected?

KM: Before making any changes, I would audit the office by reviewing audits that are in progress, evaluating staff qualifications, appraising the technology used by the office and examining current operational processes and procedures to ensure that all meet the highest standards.

JS: My top priorities are maintaining the independence of the office and continuing audits of government programs to hold our legislators and their programs accountable. Additionally, I would want to further embrace the use of data analytics and technology to identify and prevent fraud. I want to improve employee morale and increase retention through a “mission first, workers always” culture. I want to increase cooperation between legislators, government agencies, and the Auditor’s Office throughout the year and especially during budget hearings and assist our part-time legislators and cabinet secretaries with conducting a deep analysis of spending within their agencies.

If you could change one state policy or law, what would it be?

KM: Place term limits on the Auditor’s Office. I firmly believe that to be effective, both in the public and private sector, it is important that fresh eyes and perspectives are regularly brought in to maintain proper relationships between auditors and the organization being audited.

JS: Transparency and accountability are super important to me. While the auditor reports to the voters, establishing a bipartisan audit committee via state law would be helpful to ensure the office is acting in a transparent manner and conducting mandated audits in a timely fashion.

How would you work with other state officials?

KM: During my tenure as a Rehoboth commissioner, I have worked closely with members of the General Assembly from both parties and multiple state agencies and served on the board of trustees for Delaware State University. I pushed for the state to help fund a multimillion dollar streetscape aesthetics and infrastructure upgrade as well as garner nearly $80 million in public and private investment in Rehoboth.

JS: Closely. I want cabinet heads to know that the Auditor’s Office is their ally and not an adversary. I want to establish a liaison program where auditors could embed themselves in their departments to conduct an ongoing analysis of the waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars and not just on an ad hoc basis. I would encourage cabinet heads and management to conduct an annual risk assessment survey to ensure their internal controls are kept at the highest standard to help minimize the risk of fraud, waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

What, if anything, should be done to increase revenue for the state or cut spending?

KM: There are too many variables that affect Delaware’s budget. Not only will I combat waste, fraud and abuse, but I will also bring a commonsense approach to find missed opportunities and ways our state can operate smarter, more efficiently and more effectively. Using best practices, state-of-the-art technology and accounting techniques to improve efficiency and results, I plan to be on the front lines of state spending issues. This means I will fight for adequate staffing levels for the Auditor’s Office and regularly report about how tax dollars are being spent.

JS: The Auditor’s Office is not an ideological position, in the sense that it has nothing to do with allocating or cutting funding. This is another reason why Democrats can comfortably cross party lines: the Auditor has nothing to do with the contentious issues (abortion, guns, etc.) that unfortunately divide us as a society. In other words, this position has nothing to do with national politics or contentious issues, but everything to do with checks and balances in Delaware.

Is there anything else you think is pertinent?

KM: I was born and raised in Delaware and am a six-term elected Rehoboth Beach commissioner who has worked to improve customer service to make government more efficient. Owning and operating two successful businesses has given me the skills to manage people, keep costs low, manage budgets and analyze financial and accounting documents. I was the founding president of the national award-winning Rehoboth Beach Main Street nonprofit. I am a certified fraud examiner and have the managerial experience to lead the office. Plus, after serving on countless nonprofit boards, committees and commissions, including the city Budget and Finance Committee, I know what it means to hold people accountable, create and stick to a budget and manage people.

JS: I am the only candidate for auditor who is truly independent and is not accepting donations from the same department heads that the Auditor’s Office has and will investigate. Delaware taxpayers deserve the opportunity to elect an auditor who will avoid such conflicts of interest. Think about it like this: Candidates run their campaign like they will run their office. Do voters want an auditor that, when reelection comes around, will be auditing a department head one day, and asking for an endorsement and campaign contribution the next?

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