Does slow and steady really win the race? Mike Lorig, an accountant with the Department of Health and Human Services and a contender in this year's auditor-controller election, certainly hopes so.
Lorig, who ran for the position unsuccessfully in 2010, hopes to edge out Karen Paz Dominguez, a controversial newcomer to county bureaucracy, for the post. Paz Dominguez, the assistant auditor-controller, has been generating headlines since she attended the Nov. 7 Humboldt County Board of Supervisors meeting to speak out during public comment about understaffing and security breaches in the office. After that meeting, which clearly rattled the supervisors and her then-boss, Joseph Mellett, Paz Dominguez launched a fast-moving campaign for the office's top job.
In the past two months, Paz Dominguez has spoken out about inter-office power struggles, a sexual harassment complaint against Mellett and several breaches of confidential personnel information. (See "Drama at the A/C," April 12.) She has won the backing of several local progressive organizations, as well as criticism from some supervisors and several employees in her department. Lorig, in contrast, has set forth a more traditional campaign for what's usually a staid race, doing the media circuit and making pointed remarks about "cooperation" and "teamwork." In a year when even the smallest of elections are getting a lot of scrutiny, the auditor-controller's race has arguably become the county's most dramatic to watch.
So what do they actually stand for and what brought them to the contest? Paz Dominguez graduated from Humboldt State University in 2013 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and worked in the local firm Martin, Hutchison & Hohman for three years before joining the county in 2017. She said she was spurred to apply for the assistant auditor-controller position due to her passion for community outreach and her love of puzzles. Auditing, she told the Journal, involves many fun puzzles.
"When I went for the job I didn't know what state the auditor-controller's office was in," Paz Dominguez said. "The auditor-controller's office is very short staffed."
In a May 3 candidate forum with Lorig, Paz Dominguez stressed the importance of cross-training employees within the office and also hiring more staff, as well as improving some internal infrastructure to make the department more efficient. The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters, included questions about training, intra-department collaboration and leadership style.
During the forum, Lorig, who came out of semi-retirement 13 years ago to work for the county Department of Health and Human Services after spending 30 years in the private sector, repeatedly cited the need for "good working relationships" within the office. In a private interview, he said he wasn't poking at the rumored rifts between Paz Dominguez and the office's payroll department. Paz Dominguez discussed this in her interview, revealing that she had been the subject of a personnel complaint alleging she was creating a hostile work environment. Three employees of the office also filed a letter of no confidence with the board of supervisors on May 3, alleging Paz Dominguez had fostered an atmosphere of "hostility, resentment and bullying." The letter, which was leaked to a local blogger the day after it was sent to the board, was later released to local press by the county's legal office. In its initial publication, the names of three employees who signed it were included. The version the county sent out (and later, the online copy) were redacted. The auditor-controller's office has 13 full-time employees.
In his interview, Lorig, who also works part-time teaching youth to become soccer referees, said he sees a need for better communication in the office.
"To alleviate tension, we can sit down and have a conversation, let them know how you operate," he said. "I can't micromanage. that's not the job."
Lorig said that the current structure of county government is very siloed, with tasks and communication going up and down the chain of command rather than flowing between departments, which stymies progress. Cross-training and improving communication, he said, would change that. Cross-training would also attract more qualified candidates to the department, he said, as the county could be a "training ground" for candidates who wanted to buff up their resumes before moving to regions with more competitive salaries. Lorig has also advocated for increased transparency from the office and a number of system enhancements.
Paz Dominguez has also called for better communication, especially between the county and the people it represents. Employees and residents, she said, should have a better idea how their money is being spent.
"I try to think about a family that has been working all their lives to buy a house," she said. "This is people's hard-earned money. What about a single mom, how would they like it spent?"
Paz Dominguez has won the endorsements of the Humboldt County Central Democratic Committee, the local chapter of the Green Party and the North Coast People's Alliance, adding during the forum that there are "several staff members" supportive of her bid. Lorig, at the same forum, said he has the support of "many friends from Garberville to Trinidad," adding that four out of the five sitting supervisors have publicly endorsed him.
Asked about his previous bid for the post, Lorig said his loss to Mellett came down to experience and money. This time, he says, he's more prepared.
This will be Paz Dominguez's first attempt at elected office.
"I see this as the perfect opportunity to share my skills for the benefit of the community," she said in the May 3 forum. "I believe in transparency. I believe in all the things that the auditor-controller's office was designed to do. ... I believe this is my calling. I believe in the people. I am ready to be the auditor controller."
Ultimately county voters will decide the race June 5. The last day to register to vote for the election is May 21. For more information on the candidates, visit their websites, www.votemike4auditor2018.com and www.kpazdominguez.nationbuilder.com, and check out the May 3 forum, which can be listened to at www.khsu.org or viewed at www.pbsnorthcoast.org.
Linda Stansberry is a staff writer at the Journal. Reach her at 442-1400, extension 317, or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LCStansberry.