The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 2, 2012

Auditor faces challenge from Wake School board member

By Scott Mooneyham for the SNAP
SNAP

Friday, November 2, 2012 — RALEIGH — The late Ralph Campbell blamed his loss in the 2004 state auditor’s race on a single audit.

Campbell, the first African-American elected to statewide office in North Carolina, served 12 years as auditor. In 2004, his office released a scathing audit critical of the state’s handling of Medicaid payments to hospitals.

Campbell said the problem payments were “clearly a scheme.”

The characterization angered officials in the Easley administration, along with a few traditional Democratic donors.

Campbell always believed that the resulting fallout caused his loss to Republican Les Merritt a few months later. It was an election where other Democratic incumbents in North Carolina fared pretty well.

The lesson doesn’t appear lost on current State Auditor Beth Wood.

Wood has put out her share of highly critical audits, including some aimed at the same Department of Health and Human Services that Campbell targeted in that 2004 audit.

Wood, though, doesn’t hold big news conferences to call attention to her audit findings.

Even so, she has invoked the wrath of some top state agency officials.

Those angered include the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement officials who sought records regarding auditors after they raised questions about ALE travel and DHHS officials who questioned the professionalism of auditors after an audit chronicled delays in a new Medicaid claims system.

Such is the life of the person elected to uncover waste and abuse in state government.

Wood, 58, a certified public accountant who had previously worked in the state auditor’s office, is seeking her second term in the post. She faces Wake County school board member Debra Goldman, a Republican making her first bid for statewide office.

Wood touts audit findings in that first term which showed poor state contracting practices. She notes that those findings have uncovered hundreds of millions of dollars in waste and led to new laws designed to correct wasteful spending.

Wood was subjected to some of her own uncomfortable findings when it was reported in 2010 that she was behind on her property taxes.

Goldman, 48, seeks the job after serving since 2009 on a Wake County school board racked with partisan upheaval.

Unlike Wood and Merritt, she is not an accountant. In her campaign, Goldman, 48, cites her experience helping to oversee a multi-million schools budget and a background in business development.

Goldman says that she will crack down on waste and abuse in state government and be an advocate for fiscal conservatism. She is also pushing for more transparency, calling for a published audit schedule.

Goldman, though, hadn’t gotten out of the primary before her credentials were being questioned within her own party. Former state Sen. Fern Shubert, who lost in an initial primary, endorsed Greg Dority in a runoff by saying that he was far better qualified even though he too was not a CPA.

In a few more weeks, North Carolinians will render a verdict on whether those kinds of credentials matter and on whether tough audits help or hurt incumbent auditors.