@NCCapitol

Incumbent auditor faces Wake school board member

Posted October 25, 2012 4:54 p.m. EDT
Updated October 25, 2012 6:10 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's incumbent state auditor is putting her credentials up against her challenger's promises to "revolutionize" the office of the state's chief fiscal watchdog. 

Democrat Beth Wood is a Certified Public Accountant and long-time government auditor. She says that experience is critical in making sure her staff follows the rules and requirements that attach to various types of investigations and audits.

"I don't know how you can oversee a staff and make sure you're in compliance with all those standards if you don't know what those standards are," Wood said, taking a not-so-subtle swipe at Debra Goldman, her Republican opponent. 

Goldman is a Wake County school board member who says in an online campaign video, "I've been hailed by the news media as the watchdog for Wake County policy and finance." It's unclear who might have bestowed that moniker. 

The Republican did not return phone calls, emails or Facebook messages Thursday seeking comment. Goldman has been media shy since news of a 2010 burglary at her house and an alleged affair with a fellow school board member became public earlier this week.

It's unclear how that news may be affecting the race because there is very little public polling available in the campaign. However, Republicans in the state legislature have been complementary of Wood's work in the past, and she got a shoutout from the GOP candidate for governor this week. 

"I'm very concerned about some of the things I'm reading," Pat McCrory, the Republican candidate for governor, said when asked about Goldman during a debate Wednesday night. He expressed concern for Goldman's family and said it was too soon to pass judgment.

"I will compliment the current auditor at the same time," McCrory said of Wood. "I think she's done a good job. She at least had the courage to stand up to the Perdue administration on some broken government issues that someone needed to stand up to. And frankly, she was the only member of the Council of State who did stand up to the broken government of both the Easley and Perdue administrations."

Wood became auditor four years ago and was not auditor at the same time as Mike Easley was governor, although her first audits during her tenure looked at spending during the time he held that office.  

The state auditor is one of 10 statewide elected officials in North Carolina. The duties of the office are prescribed by law, but generally revolve around making sure North Carolina government spends its money wisely. State law also gives the auditor powers to root out "improper governmental activities."

On her campaign website, Goldman pledges to "revolutionize the way State Government is assessed. In taking on the role of auditor, Debra will crack down on the numerous public financial scandals and reports of fiscal mismanagement."

However, she doesn't provide details on how she might go about that. Goldman lays claim to "20 years of private-sector business experience," according to a candidate profile she filled out for WRAL News.

Wood said she has already been rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. She says her agency has had its biggest impact over the past four years by exposing poorly written state contracts.

"We have encountered several contracts where the they are not in the best interest of the state of North Carolina," Wood said. "The state spends $3 billion a year in service contracts."

In one recent round of audits, for example, Wood's department questioned whether companies hired by the state to monitor Medicaid spending were actually saving taxpayers any money. 

Wood said that if she is elected for another term, the Department of Health and Human Services would continue to be a major focus for her department. 

As for McCrory's nod during the debate, Wood said she's happy her work has been noticed.

"I like to think I've always been able to work with both sides of the aisle," she said, noting her agency has the power to uncover problems but it's up to others to fix them. "If the governor and the General Assembly don't pick up my findings and do something with them, then the state will continue to run as it always has."