Lois Henry

Saturday, Feb 22 2014 08:00 PM

LOIS HENRY: Here's one public servant who exits the right way

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    Californian columnist Lois Henry

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    Kern County Treasurer and Tax Collector Jackie Denney will not seek re-election this year, she announced Thursday.

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By Lois Henry

Good for Jackie Denney.

I'm normally not so effusive about that particular name, as I do so hate writing it out on those checks I send the county twice a year, but I'm glad to give credit where it's due.

Related Info

Lois Henry appears on "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

Denney's Career

Jackie Denney started with the Kern County Treasurer-Tax Collector's office when she was only 19 years old, working her way through college.

By the time she retires next January, she will have 36 years of service with the county.

She first ran for the Treasure-Tax Collector post in 2006 after longtime Treasurer Phil Franey retired.

Franey had been in that office for more than 20 years.

"He was the only Treasurer-Tax Collector some people could remember," Denney said. "When I took over and people started receiving bills with my name, they were shocked. People actually called to make sure everything was OK."

After so many years with the county (except for the two years she worked in the City of Bakersfield's purchasing department), she said what she'll miss most is the people.

"I'll miss the people I work with and my fellow department heads. We have a great team in Kern County," she said. "And I'll miss the taxpayers."

One of her favorite parts of the job was working the lobby at property tax time.

Three days before taxes are due on Dec. 10 and April 10 of every year, she said, the Treasurer-Tax Collector's lobby is packed with people coming to pay their taxes. Or coming to explain why they can't.

"I love standing out there, answering questions and making sure people get help quickly," she said.

Even when faced with angry taxpayers, she said, it's rare that she can't find common ground with people.

After all, she pays property taxes too, though she said she just puts "KCTTC" on her checks, rather than making them out to herself.

She plans to remain active in the community on the boards of the Kern County Museum and Kern Federal Credit Union as well as local charities.

Denney, Kern County's Treasurer-Tax Collector, asked voters to elect her to a four-year term in 2010.

Voters did.

And, wonder of wonders, she has lived up to her end of the bargain by serving out the entirety of her term before retiring next January.

"That was a big part of my decision on whether to retire," she said. "For me, it's all or nothing. If I ask voters to support me I intend to fulfill my term. So, I had to decide whether to retire now or commit to another full four years."

Wow.

I shouldn't be impressed by that kind of integrity. It should be standard.

But lately more and more elected officials have lacked that basic respect for the voters of this county.

We voters have been jilted by a host of politicians who courted us to attain office, then -- poof -- they were outtie.

The list is impressive considering it only goes back a few years.

There was state Sen. Michael Rubio, City Councilman Rudy Salas and Auditor-Controller Ann Barnett. Along with two attempted jiltings by the Assessor Jim Fitch and Supervisor Leticia Perez.

I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get a complex.

Leaving office early (especially for a bigger, "better" office) is bad faith.

Leaving office early in order to anoint a successor has the added stink of unfair.

That's because, when the next election rolls around, the appointee who fills out the term is automatically listed as the "incumbent," giving that person a huge advantage over would-be challengers.

It's happened more than a few times in Kern, most recently with Auditor-Controller Barnett, who announced her retirement in 2012, two years into her four-year term.

Assistant Auditor-Controller Mary Bedard was appointed to finish Barnett's term and will more than likely be on the ballot this June as the incumbent. Bedard has pulled papers to run but they haven't yet been finalized.

I'm not saying Bedard isn't good. She might be the best Auditor-Controller in the West.

But voters did not elect her in 2010. They elected Barnett and got Bedard by default. Now, a challenger's prospects are practically nil.

This kind of leapfrogging into elected office has become so common, Assessor Fitch was appalled when it didn't work for him.

He announced his retirement in February 2013 and recommended that Supervisors appoint Assistant Assessor Tony Ansolabehere to fill out his term.

When Supervisors toyed with the idea of opening up the appointment process and, at the same time, evaluating the office, Fitch angrily rescinded his retirement.

Even Ansolabehere was surprised when his anticipated leapfrog was stopped mid-air.

"We saw what happened with Ann Barnett, and we thought it would be a smooth process, that it would be good for the office, " Ansolabehere told The Californian last year. "Then it went south."

I get that what these departments do is complicated and insiders might feel it's best to have a continuity of leadership. But it's not up to them. It's up to the voters.

These offices may seem obscure, but they provide the very foundation of county government. The Assessor assesses properties and determines ownership, the Auditor-Controller determines the tax rate and the Treasurer collects the taxes and acts as the county's bank. They work in concert and provide checks and balances against each other.

The people who head these offices are elected for a reason. You can't have any one of these folks cooking the books under political pressure. Being elected rather than beholden to the Board of Supervisors for their positions provides them with the independence they need.

So, again, kudos to Denney for doing the right thing and not trying to leapfrog Assistant Treasurer Jordan Kaufman into her shoes.

She did endorse Kauffman, who has pulled papers to run for the office this June. But by announcing her retirement now, Denney freed the ballot of any "incumbents," giving potential challengers an even playing field. With no incumbent, challengers also have until March 12, rather than March 7, to pull papers.

Conversely, anyone interested in running for Auditor-Controller only has until March 7 to get his or her paperwork in and will face off against "incumbent" Bedard.

I asked Denney what was most important thing a person could bring to being a Treasurer Tax Collector.

"Oh, gosh," she said. "Integrity was the first thing that popped into my mind."

I'd say she brought that not only to the office, but to her exit as well.

 

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail lhenry@bakersfield.com

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