Debates educate public on candidates potential

awileman@sierrastar.comMay 6, 2014 

More than 100 Madera County voters filled the Elk's Lodge Thursday, May 1, eager to hear each of the candidates qualifications for the Madera County auditor-controller, assessor and District 5 supervisor positions in the June 3 primary election.

The night, moderated by Oakhurst attorney and past chamber president Greg Chappel, consisted of six candidates, vying for three positions who spent the night answering a multitude of audience concerns.

Candidates were presented with questions produced by audience members and a panel of reporters consisting of Sierra Star Editor Brian Wilkinson, and two high school students, Victoria Glanzer and Erin Asis, members of Deborah Brown's Yosemite High School AP government class.

Throughout the evening, questions continually surrounded the local District 5 supervisor race which includes incumbant Tom Wheeler and firefighter Paul Cliby.

Wheeler, who has held the position since 2006, touched on numerous Mountain Area issues and engaged in short term dialogues with Cliby who challenged the incumbent to a personal debate, prior to the June elections. Cliby presented the potential debate as a way to help voters to provide more details that would distinguish the differences between the two.

During the forum, auditor-controller candidates were continuously asked about the repercussions of the continuously delayed yearly audits.

Incumbent Marcia Hall responded to the questions with confidence when asked specific questions about the auditor position.

Meanwhile her opponent, Miller, noted that it was a "managerial job" and had little to due with actual auditing.

Hall, who is amidst allegations of living in a Merced home while holding office in Madera County, was asked about her residency. Hall claimed that in the midst of her appointment to the auditor position in 2012, she moved to her current residence to Edgewater Drive in Chowchilla.

Later, Miller questioned Hall's ability to produce timely audits and her lack of ability to produce timely reports which according to Miller has cost the county millions in unrecoverable grants, including a $10.4 million grant for the Silver Project.

"This is the one job that the auditor controller does, getting these financial statements done on time is the one thing that would bring money into the county. Those reports being late, and habitually late, cost the county money," Miller said.

Hall responded to the allegations by contributing the tardiness of audits to pre-existing issues prior to her arrival to the deparetment. She responded by stating those funds were not lost but merely the ability to apply for those funds was lost.

"The $10.4 million dollar funding for the Silver Project is not lost ... that lender no longer handles long term financing," Hall responded. "It is not dead, it is still out there. You can ask the board of supervisors it is still a viable project that is going to happen," Hall said. "We are almost done with the 2013 audit and the 2014 audit will be on time. There were dozens of delinquent reports when I got there. State mandated reports that have penalties that are associated with them. We have brought most of those current ... not all of them ... but most of them are right on time," Hall said.

Other issues discussed at the debate between auditor candidates included: inter-department communication, reasons for running, previous government experience, and understanding ethics and relationships with other county departments.

The assessors race was met with considerable less controversy but included questions about Runtzel's government experience. Runtzel himself noted his inexperience in government office but stated his 30 years of experience in appraising would give him all the knowledge necessary to do the job sufficiently.

Runtzel is president of the Yosemite Gateway Association of Realtors and president of Region 12 of the California Association of Realtors. He has 35 years experience in residential appraising, real estate, banking, and limited county employment with the tax collectors office in Mariposa County.

Opponent Gary Svanda of Madera, answeed several questions including information about the property rax appeal process for private home assessments.

Svanda, who is coming to the end of his third four-year term on the Madera City Council (two terms as mayor), has entered the June primary race, along with Runtzel, to fill Tom Kidwell's position, after he announced his retirement after 20 years. The job has an annual salary of $115,882.

Svanda at one time was a financial investment counselor with Edward Jones Investments in Madera. Prior to Edward Jones, Svanda owned and operated the GM and Toyota dealership in Madera with a satellite store in Oakhurst under the name of Pacesetter Automotive Center. He had 27 years in the retail automotive business, 17 as the owner of the dealership.

He is currently the chairman of the Madera County Transportation Commission, and an executive member of the Madera County Economic Development Commission. He is a past chairman of the Madera Housing Authority and the Madera Redevelopment Agency.

Svanda has also served as president of the Madera Chamber of Commerce, president of the Madera Breakfast Lions club, and board member of the Madera Hospital Foundation.

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