COOS COUNTY — In less than two months this year’s candidates for both city and county offices will be chosen. With races ranging from the uneventful to the hotly contested, the Coos County Treasurer’s race falls into the latter category.
This year’s hopefuls could not be any more opposite. The soft-spoken County Finance Director Megan Simms is a stark contrast to Coquille’s oft outspoken, outgoing Mayor Matt Rowe.
Simms thinks it’s a good thing when you don’t know who your treasurer is. “I think if you don’t know who your treasurer is, it’s better,” Simms said. “Because usually the only time you find out who the treasurer is, is when they did something.” She said that’s probably why outgoing County Treasurer Mary Barton has run unopposed since 1989.
Rowe believes exactly the opposite. He said he wants to make sweeping changes in how the job has been traditionally done, starting by trying to make budgetary process less “opaque.”
He said he also plans to ask the commissioners to allow him to form a public investment committee to look into the investments the county has made.
“I think we should have a board made up of professionals and of lay people, of citizens, so they know how their money is being invested and what return they’re getting on it,” Rowe said.
Unlike Rowe, Simms doesn’t plan to make changes to the office. She said it’s not an exciting job where you get to make sweeping changes, because the treasurer has no say in how the money is spent.
“The treasurer’s position isn’t an elected position that you run for to make changes, because they don’t get to make any decisions,” Simms said, “They don’t choose how much property taxes are, they don’t get to choose how county money is spent, so I’m doing it because I love the work, I love the job.”
Acknowledging that the treasurer can’t change how money is allocated, Rowe said there are ways outside of normal treasurer duties to make changes.
“There are ways to make changes and not make changes. OK, do you have a vote on appropriations? No. But if you point out flaws, poor decisions, bad ideas and positive ideas. Then you can make good recommendations that can influence the board just as much as the sheriff can,” Rowe said.
His biggest contention is the potential merger of the finance director and treasurer’s office which he said violates the spirit of the law and should be kept independent.
If elected, Simms would serve as treasurer, budget officer and tax collector. As she understands it, she said the Coos County Commission would lower her Finance Director salary of $63,000 a year, allowing her to serve in both positions. When asked if the multitude of job tasks is overwhelming, she said they overlap a lot. Barton had done all the tasks herself before Simms was hired.
“I would do both [jobs] as I understand it, but it’s ultimately up to the commissioners,” Simms said.
In February, the Treasurer’s salary was lowered to $28,000 a year, something that Simms and Rowe said doesn’t deter them from the job.
Simms strengths lie in her accounting background, which she said is needed for the position. She said she’s has been doing governmental accounting for 10 years. She started out in the County office as tax accounting specialist III, which meant she did fixed assets for the county and was backup to the deputy treasurer. Later on, she became deputy treasurer and eventually landed in the role she has now, which she likens to being an office manager. “You prepare a lot of stuff for the treasurer,” Simms said.
Rowe has served as Coquille’s Mayor for the past four years. Although he’s had no formal accounting experience, he said his role as mayor required a lot of oversight and implementation of budgets.
Rowe said early on in his campaign for treasurer he promised to look over last year’s budget to try and find the $250,000 needed to finance more jail beds, a promise he said he still plans to fulfill.
“I will form a volunteer committee under my supervision that will go through the budget line by line, pinpointing waste and inefficiencies with the goal of finding enough money to open a new jail pod to keep us up at 98 jail beds without a tax increase,” Rowe said.
He acknowledged that the treasurer’s job requires bookkeeping skills, but said it’s fundamentally about integrity and independence. “Somebody might just think it’s the treasurer’s job to sit back and write the checks, I don’t think that’s what the job is,” he said.
The candidates also differ in the ways they’ve tried to drum up support for their campaigns.
As far as campaigning goes, Simms admits it’s not her forte. “I’m used to sitting behind a desk. So, it’s been an experience to try and get out of my comfort zone. I’m not used to selling myself.”
By contrast, Rowe has had experience campaigning in his two bids for mayor. Most recently, he was in a truck adorned with campaign signs at the Fun Fest Parade last Saturday.
The candidates may disagree on how the office should function, but both can agree that its fundamental purpose is county oversight.