Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Saturday, August 12

Auditor: Sykes (D) Meets the Bloggers

On Friday at the new Meet the Bloggers location in the Tower Press Building in Cleveland, Ohio, I attended an interview with State Auditor candidate Rep. Barbara Sykes (D-Akron). Sykes arrived with her husband, 44th Ohio House District candidate and former State Rep. Vernon Sykes (D-Akron), and her daughter, Emelia. They were going to a fundraiser at a Cleveland Indians game at Jacobs Field following the interview, so we started at the unusual time of 5:00 pm. Also unusual, we sat on stools around an L-shaped kitchen counter in a largely empty loft-style apartment, as the table and chairs had not yet arrived.

The other bloggers in attendance were Tim Ferris, Gloria Ferris, and George Nemeth, who operated the sound equipment. Sykes has an inspiring personal story. She grew up in the part of Arkansas that is near Mississippi, the daughter of a share-cropper. It was a difficult life, with lots of hard physical labor. She knew that they were poor because of what she saw on television. However, she also saw a television show that depicted a social worker helping someone, and that prompted her to seek a career in social work. She obtained her social work degree from the University of Akron, and later a masters in public administration. She was the first African-American woman on the Akron City Council and she served twelve years as Deputy Auditor for Summit County. She is now serving her third term as a State Representative and has been President of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus since 2003.

Sykes laughs easily and the interview was friendly and informal. However, the topics we covered were quite serious. Sykes' web site highlights this quote:

We should not have to rely on newspapers to find out Ohio is investing in RARE COINS AND BOTTLES OF WINE. An Auditor should perform the duties of their job thoroughly, regardless of party affiliation.
We spent quite a bit of time zeroing in on how Sykes plans to accomplish her goals of rooting out fraud, waste, and abuse, ensuring transparency, and identifying potential problems early on. When talking about her work on the Public Utilities and Energy Commission, she became very emotional telling the story of an elderly man whose water was turned off, but who was hurt most by the public humiliation of the yellow warning stickers placed on the front of his home.

Sykes' opponent, State Rep. Mary Taylor (R-Green), is emphasizing the fact that she is a Certified Public Accountant and Sykes is not. However, Sykes will be in the position of supervising auditors and administrating that department, not conducting the actual audits herself. Sykes has the valuable background of serving as Deputy Auditor of Summit County, which Taylor does not. The current auditor, Betty Montgomery (R), is not a CPA.

I asked Sykes about her relationship with gubernatorial candidate Rep. Ted Strickland (D-Lisbon), since the two of them displayed such wonderful chemistry when I saw them appear together at the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus pre-event before the ODP Dinner in June and more recently at a candidates meet-and-greet in Woodmere, Ohio. She said that the two of them have known each other quite a while and get along well together. She recalled commiserating with Strickland after both lost elections in 1994, a terrible year for Democrats.

Another topic that got quite of bit of attention is the prevalent use of private accounting firms to perform audits on behalf of the state. Aside from the potential for pay-to-play abuse, another big problem is a state law that shields the private accountants' work papers from inspection by the state. This is outrageous, since the state is the real client and the accountant owes the duties of a fiduciary to the state. Sykes said she intends to demand access to workpapers as a condition of certifying accountants to perform such work.


At 9:41 AM, Blogger Jill said...

Thank you, as always, Jeff for the time and effort you put into your coverage. I look forward to listening to this podcast (or preferably reading the transcripts!) - I was very sorry to miss this one.


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