Ulster County Comptroller Candidates Bring Different Skill Sets
Candidates for four Ulster County offices running in November’s general election met for a forum this morning in Kingston. One of the key races is for comptroller.
Lisa Cutten and March Gallagher each told the Ulster County Chamber of Commerce audience why she is best for the county comptroller post. The position opened when Democrat Elliot Auerbach left in May to work in the state comptroller’s office. The Ulster County Democratic Committee chose Gallagher over Cutten for the party line. So Cutten is running on the Republican ticket, and also is on the Conservative and Independence lines.
“One of the points is it wasn’t a primary, so there was no public conversation; there was no public discussion about qualifications, etcetera,” says Cutten. “And I felt it was important for the taxpayers of Ulster County to have a choice.”
Cutten says the chief auditing officer position is not about policy.
“It’s about watching the money for the people of Ulster County, and that includes making sure that it’s not wasted or stolen, making sure we’re getting what we’re paying for and that people are benefitting from the services that we’re providing in the way that we think they should,” Cutten says. “So it’s a really important job, but it does require background in the work.”
Gallagher, who is also on the Working Families line, and who most recently served as president and CEO of Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley, says she brings fresh eyes from the nonprofit and private sectors.
“Well, I did not set up the internal controls inside county finance so I can bring an objective point of view to it and ask questions, and look at things that we’ve implemented in other places in the private sector and in the nonprofit sector,” Gallagher says. “I think a lot of people would say government needs to be more like business to move with the times.”
Comptroller is one of the few elected posts that does not set policy.
“Yeah, but it influences policy, so you need to recognize that your reports could really have an impact on the policy-setting by the legislature and policy execution by the county executive,” says Gallagher. “And we’re going to be, we’re in good times right now, but we could be seeing constrained fiscal times in the future, and I think having someone who understands the policy side of the numbers is really important.”
Gallagher was chief strategy officer for Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress. Before that, she served in county government, heading up the county’s Office of Business Services under then County Executive Mike Hein. Prior, she chaired the Ulster County Industrial Development Agency.
“As IDA chair, I worked with municipal bonding, so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about that. And I managed a very large endowment, with a team, of course, of people at the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley,” Gallagher says. “As chair of the IDA, I brought in a wave of reform that was really about transparency and accountability that actually predated the Public Authorities Accountability Act. So I think I have breadth of experience that really covers all these different areas.”
Cutten brings nearly 40 years of experience in accounting and auditing. She began in local government in 1986, in Kingston. She was comptroller of the Towns of Fishkill and Poughkeepsie, separately, of course, and has spent more than 10 years in auditing and local finance areas in Ulster County government. For five years, she served as Ulster County Director of Accountability, Compliance & Efficiency, until Democratic Ulster County Executive Pat Ryan fired her in July.
“And people have asked me, because of the situation with the county executive, how would I handle that, and I believe, from my perspective, we have our different roles, that our relationship should be based on mutual respect. And that’s the way I would conduct myself. I’m a professional person and would conduct myself that way,” says Cutten. “As I said, it’s not a political position. It’s supposed to be independent and, quite frankly, this just, in a way, hammers that home. I am not a political insider. I will do the job for the people of Ulster County. That’s why we have an elected comptroller, so that the comptroller is reportable directly to the people.”
Ryan has said he declared when he took office after winning an April 30 special election that there would be some personnel changes. Ryan has a rematch against Republican Jack Hayes in November. Cutten is a certified public accountant.
“While you don’t need to be a CPA, in my view, you do need to have rock solid experience and training in accounting, auditing and local government finance to really deliver for the people, and that’s what I have,” says Cutten.
“There are at least two staff positions in there that are appointed that can be filled with CPAs,” says Gallagher. “I think it’s about managing a team of people with a whole bunch of skill sets, and CPAs are definitely a piece of that.”
Adele Reiter, formerly acting Ulster County executive, has been serving as interim Ulster County comptroller.