Last night, the Kent County Democratic Committee hosted a forum for the Democrat candidates for State Auditor at the Kent County Levy Court in Dover. The well-attended debate was clearly won by candidate Kathleen Davies.
Despite an unemployment hearing report that stated Kathleen Davies was put on paid administrative leave and then terminated with insufficient cause, former State Rep. Dennis Williams used the forum as a bully pulpit to interrogate Davies about her situation at the State Auditor’s office even though he already knew the answers. He bashed the Department of Labor hearing officers and their qualifications even though they have conducted hundreds of cases over the years in disputes between employees and state agencies. Davies did an excellent job with fielding his questions and defending the Department of Labor. It was truly a bizarre moment on Dennis Williams’ part in going after the Department of Labor and undermining the work they do.
One of the questions sent to the debate centered around the infamous “report” from State Auditor Tom Wagner’s office. While it did not specifically name the title of the report, I would have to assume they meant the Grant Thornton report. This was an investigation Tom Wagner okayed to investigate Kathleen Davies. This report cost Delaware taxpayers over $100,000.00 and Tom Wagner would not submit the entire report at Davies’ unemployment hearing in June. When asked why she would not release the report, Davies reminded the audience it is not her report to release. It is a work product of a state agency. She said anyone could submit a FOIA request to the Auditor of Accounts office for that report.
Candidate Kathy McGuiness seemed to think her endorsements from state legislators would automatically give the Auditor of Accounts office a payday from the Joint Finance Committee. While she (wisely) did not jump on Williams’ failed attempts to jostle Davies, she did show a very clear inability to understand how the office works, as well as the expenses of performance audits. She proudly boasted that performance audits are “cheaper“. Davies rebutted that performance audits are very expensive and time-consuming. McGuiness rebutted further (while completely ignoring her own opinion they are cheaper) that the expense would be worth it because those types of audits are the “wave of the future“. When asked about how Delaware can strengthen laws around education funding (full disclosure, that was my question), McGuiness clearly displayed an inability to fully understand the scope of the problem. She stated she spent the weekend looking at education audits but then was unable to even remember what audit she was talking about when she tried to give an example. At one point, she stated the Auditor of Accounts can’t audit the Executive Office of Delaware. This clearly showed her inability to understand the Auditor of Accounts office’s ability to audit any state agency. The other two candidates quickly corrected her on this huge error.
When asked specifically about experience in auditing being needed to run the Auditor of Accounts office, McGuiness answered stating that experience in general is needed. She even cited that just because someone has experience as a doctor it does not mean they are a good doctor. I would counter that by saying I would rather have a doctor deal with medical issues than a plumber.
Most of McGuiness’ answers consisted of her time on City of Rehoboth Council. When asked about volunteer time, McGuiness launched a laundry list of different organizations she has served on over the years. What McGuiness was unable to do was give clear answers about her qualifications to oversee an office of auditors. When asked about her endorsements, McGuiness said “They believe in me and they’re attaching their name to me.” What McGuiness failed to mention was her very close friendship with Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. As well, some of the legislators who have endorsed McGuiness have privately told me they have done so because they are friends with her. It isn’t about belief, it is about endorsing someone without recognizing the qualifications that office needs. Because of Pete’s position as someone who has to broker deals constantly, and is actively pushing for McGuiness, I question some of the endorsements she has received from certain legislators or organizations. An endorsement should ALWAYS be about qualifications. It should NEVER be about currying favor with someone else. The shroud of Pete Schwartzkopf over so many of McGuiness’ endorsements is a tremendous cause for concern.
This debate showed the Auditor of Accounts must have experience with, you know, auditing. While the other two candidates became very confused about federal mandates with state auditing, Davies was able to articulate exactly what those mandates mean to the Delaware office. As well, both McGuiness and Williams did not seem to grasp that the Auditor of Accounts office is not able to enforce but rather to inform. It is up to other state agencies to enforce the findings of audit reports and investigations. Williams did attempt to correct himself on his earlier assertion but the delivery seemed more like Monday morning quarterbacking.
While Williams was talking about independence and how he is not accepting endorsements from legislators, he failed to mention that no one is really endorsing him at all. In the Winter, according to many sources at Legislative Hall, Williams was actively seeking the very same endorsements he is now saying would taint the office. I submitted a question towards the end of the debate but the moderator did not allow it to be asked. My question was this: “Have you, in this election or prior elections, publicly announced an endorsement you did not actually get?” I was curious if Williams was going to own up to his Facebook post in the 2016 election about a DSEA endorsement for him which, in reality, was given to his opponent, State Rep. Sean Matthews. In his closing arguments, Williams stated he is a “Democrat Independent”, while touting his belief in some of the core values of the Democrat party. Which is good but it fails his own litmus test of being truly independent.
I submitted a question about how the candidates, if elected to State Auditor, would handle an investigation into someone they knew or a friend. McGuiness and Williams both cited they would investigate. Davies said she would recuse herself, based on office guidelines, and have an independent professional come in to do a review of the final audit. Once again, Davies understands how the system works while the other two do not.
A question directed towards Davies about how she would be able to work in the office when all the employees found her difficult to work with was actually submitted by the same employee that went after Davies before her leave. Andrena Hurley, now Andrena Burd, was blasted in the unemployment hearing report for recording Davies in the office without any authorization and for creating an environment of innuendo and speculation without any basis in fact. Davies explained she believes in the office and the allegation that no one would be able to work her was false. She said she was strict about office employees politicking or running a second business when she ran the office. Really Andrena? She knows the Merit Employee Review Board (MERB) is still doing their hearings of which she will assuredly be called as a witness, and she submits a question to a political forum about her former boss? Talk about inappropriate! That is one Angry Burd! But I digress…
Matt Bittle, with the Delaware State News, wrote an article about the forum. While they stated “Few details have come out about the situation involving Ms. Davies“, even the News Journal cited the unemployment hearing report in June weeks after I reported those findings. To diminish the unemployment hearing report is a grave injustice against Kathleen Davies. While the Merit Employee Review Board hearing continues, I have no doubt they will vote in favor of Davies’ reinstatement to the Auditor’s office given the facts that have already come out. Dennis Williams also seems to not recognize the MERB hearing is going on because Davies submitted a complaint against Tom Wagner, not the other way around. Anyone with even the most basic and rudimentary knowledge of Davies’ case against the office would know this was a hatchet job brought on by disgruntled employees who didn’t want to do their job right and State Auditor Tom Wagner backed them up without even giving Davies a chance to explain her side of the story. And it’s not like I haven’t written many articles, including one yesterday, that show consistent problems with Tom Wagner going back at least ten years. That issue was before Davies was in the office.
I do want to give kudos to all the candidates for coming up and introducing themselves to me. I had never “officially” met two of them. They both seemed to know who I was. One candidate should NOT be shrugging her head when the moderator says who the questions are coming from. That is just bad form. The News Journal’s Jessica Bies was in attendance at the forum but an article has not come out from her as of yet.
Altogether, one candidate showed their vast knowledge of how the office works and displayed how their decades of state auditing work would best serve the citizens of Delaware. One candidate was able to answer questions about auditing in a way the crowd understood. That was Kathleen Davies.
Full disclosure: I have openly supported Kathleen Davies since she announced she would run for this office. I have done so because I firmly believe she is the only candidate in this race that is the most qualified to lead the Auditor of Accounts office but also has the knowledge and experience to give us the best audits. I’ve written many articles about her and have always believed she was put on administrative leave due to her actually coming out with quality audits and certain folks in this state did not like that.