By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The closely watched process to fill Sonoma County’s open chief financial officer position has settled on three top candidates to be interviewed by the Board of Supervisors next week in a special public meeting.
The candidates include Donna Dunk, a 26-year employee in the county auditor’s office who has served as the interim financial chief since the May retirement of Rod Dole, the county’s long-time auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector.
The other two candidates are David Sundstrom, Orange County’s auditor-controller, and Terri Velasquez, a former chief financial officer, financial and administrative services director for the City of Colorado Springs, Colo.
Supervisors are set to interview the candidates and possibly make their selection in a public meeting at 8:30 a.m. next Monday. They are set to approve the special session at their regular meeting Tuesday.
Sonoma County officials said they received applications from 19 qualified candidates for the position.
The top 10 candidates were interviewed Nov. 16 by two panels made up of four county financial chiefs from Northern California and four Sonoma County department heads.
The panels recommended board interviews for the top three candidates.
Four applicants who did not make that list but who have not withdrawn their names include Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky, a certified public accountant, and Richard Arrow, a former Marin County auditor-controller who served most recently as interim assistant auditor-controller in Yuba County.
Supervisors could agree to add any of those four outlying candidates to the trio to be interviewed next week.
The job has an annual salary of $208,644 and with an elected term that expires at the end of 2014. It came open after Dole, who served as the county’s top financial official since the mid-1980s, announced his retirement in February, a month after being sworn in for his seventh term.
Local financial watchdogs have been closely monitoring the appointment process.
Some have voiced concern that the selection of Dunk would represent a continuation of county policies they have criticized, including three rounds of county borrowing approved under Dole’s tenure to pay off $617 million in unfunded pension obligations. The county’s per capita pension debt, critics note, is now among the highest, if not the highest in the state, according to the latestfigures from the state Controller’s office.
Dunk, 53, who served seven years as assistant auditor-controller under Dole, and who was recommended for the post by her predecessor, could not be reached Monday for comment.
Sundstrom, 59, who was elected Orange County’s auditor-controller in 1999, said his interest in the post was personal and professional. A Sonoma State University alumnus, he said most of his relatives live in the area.
He described Orange County’s financial overhaul since its 1994 bankruptcy as a completed “mission,” saying that he was looking for a new opportunity to steer another government — Sonoma County — through tough fiscal times.
Sundstrom has been in the middle of a scrap this year between the Orange County Board of Supervisors and local school officials over $73.5 million in tax dollars. The money is destined for schools and community colleges but county leaders want to use it to balance the county’s budget and pay its bills.
In exchange, the county would provide short-term loans to K-12 schools to help with cash flow, Sundstrom said. The funding grab, which school officials blasted last week, could prompt a legal challenge from the state.
“I applied for this (the Sonoma County financial post) long before that ever came up,” Sundstrom said Monday of the tax battle.
The third candidate, Velasquez, has filed a $1 million claim against her former employer, the City of Colorado Springs, alleging she was terminated in July for standing up to what she said were financial wrongdoings.
The claim, which seeks lost wages and benefits stemming from her termination, was not part of the background used by the two panels that recommended Velasquez to the Board of Supervisors, said Christina Cramer, interim assistant human resources director for Sonoma County.
“This was a screening panel based on qualifications,” Cramer said.
“The Board of Supervisors will consider candidates’ full backgrounds,” she said.
The public will have an opportunity to comment at Monday’s meeting, which is required because the appointment concerns an elected position.
The county also continues to study a switch that would permanently make the financial post an appointed one. That change would have to be approved by voters.