Back on the ballot – Brentano enters Marion County treasurer race

April 2022 Posted in News, Other

By Stephen Floyd

Former Sublimity Mayor and Marion County Commissioner Sam Brentano is coming out of political retirement to run for Marion County Treasurer with an eye to merge the office with the county Finance Department.

Brentano filed unopposed for the Republican nomination for the May 17 primary, with the office itself to be decided during the Nov. 8 general election. Unaffiliated candidates have until Aug. 30 to file for Nov. 8.

Incumbent Treasurer Laurie Steele said she is retiring after 19 years in office and is looking forward to time spent with her husband and traveling. She said Marion County has been “a wonderful place to work” and she will miss her colleagues.

Brentano stepped down from political life in January 2021, after 17 years as a commissioner, and ten years beforehand as mayor of Sublimity. Brentano said, when he heard Steele was retiring, he had “a little tread left on the tires” and saw an opportunity to reform the Treasurer’s Office.

Brentano said the Treasurer’s Office is largely redundant with the responsibilities of the Finance Department and they should not have to be separate agencies with separate staff. The county website defines the responsibilities of the Treasurer’s Office as managing and documenting the income, payments and investments of the county, while the responsibilities of the Finance Department include managing the county’s budget, payroll, accounts receivable, contracts and procurements.

Brentano said the levels of skill and knowledge required to serve effectively as treasurer “concern more than just ability to get elected.” The Oregon Constitution does not place requirements on the abilities of a county treasurer outside of qualifying for an election, unlike offices such as county sheriff, coroner, assessor and surveyor which carry requirements specific to the duties of each office.

“In a perfect world, [the treasurer] would be an appointed person with a certain skill set,” said Brentano, acknowledging he does not have these skills himself.

Instead, Brentano said his goal is to facilitate the transfer of Treasurer’s Office responsibilities to the Finance Department, headed by the Chief Financial Officer, a position filled by the commissioners. Brentano said he is optimistic he can help the county through that change before the end of his term.

“Once I get it set up, it will be a part-time position, full-time responsibility,” he said.

“I’m very excited to have that opportunity,” Brentano continued. “I love working with the county and look forward to that opportunity.”

He added decentralizing the Treasurer’s Office is not a slight against Steele, whom he said was very effective during her 20 years in office.

“Laurie Steele was a longtime treasurer and did just a fabulous job,” said Brentano.

Marion County CFO Jeff White said the physical move of treasury employees to his department has already occurred, with the transfer of two part-time treasury employees to a pool of 22 finance workers. 

White said the department had already cross-trained staff to work in the treasurer’s office to cover vacant shifts, so it made sense for employees training to do the same job to work together under the same department head.

“It’s an administrative change to try to help things work better with those part-time employees,” he said. “I don’t supervise them by any means. I’m just here to assist in that function.”

White said the goal was not to disempower the Treasurer’s Office, whose authorities are defined by the state constitution, but rather to expand opportunities for both treasurer employees and citizens that could not be achieved through two part-timers.

“The responsibilities absolutely lie with the treasurer,” he said.

When asked why the Treasurer’s Office was not granted more personnel and hours rather than the transfer, White said staffing decisions are made by commissioners through department head requests and budget committee recommendations. 

He said, in his 15 years as CFO, the treasurer’s office has normally had limited, part-time staffing.

When asked what may happen if a treasurer is elected who would rather have their own full-time staff, White said that would need to be a conversation between the treasurer and commissioners. White said, whichever candidate is elected treasurer, the finance department plans to support them.

“Whoever it is, if it’s not Sam, we’ll work with whoever,” said White.

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