By KEVIN McCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Santa Rosa City Council member Gary Wysocky on Monday announced his intention to run for Sonoma County’s
top financial post, auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector.
Wysocky, 56, said he believes his long career as a certified public accountant and role as a fiscal watchdog over the city’s budget qualify him for the job.
“I think local government needs good elected oversight,” Wysocky said. “With our fiscal challenges, we need to ensure the public taxpayer dollars and ratepayer dollars are being well spent.”
As part of his announcement, Wysocky revealed for the first time that he suffers from epilepsy, a chronic neurological disorder that causes seizures. Though he said his condition doesn’t affect his City Council responsibilities or his ability to perform the duties of the county post, Wysocky said is trying to be as up front as possible with voters.
“I want people with this affliction to know that you don’t have stop at anything — it doesn’t have to hold you back,” he said.
The current auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector David Sundstrom was appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2011 to fill out the remaining term of Rod Dole after he retired.
Sundstrom, 60, was previously the auditor-controller of Orange County. His selection was widely viewed as a move away from the 26-year tenure of Dole, who had recommended assistant auditor-controller Donna Dunk as his successor.
Sundstrom was appointed as Orange County auditor-controller in 1996 and won election four times before stepping down last year to accept the Sonoma County post. Supervisors cited his leadership in setting government accounting standards, experience with pension overhaul, and computerized financial management as reasons for selecting him.
Sundstrom said he has known for some time that Wysocky was considering running against him in the June 2014 election. While he knows Wysocky probably has greater name recognition at the moment, Sundstrom said he is an experienced campaigner who plans to stress his own qualifications for the job.
“My view is government finance is a very specialized field and there are lots of facets to it,” Sundstrom said. “I have five different positions and they are all very complex.”
Sundstrom, whose total compensation package in 2012 was just over $200,000, was traveling in Connecticut Monday to attend a meeting of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board, on which he serves.
Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane said Sundstrom’s service on the board that sets accounting standards for government agencies across the nation was one of the skills that set him apart from other candidates who applied for the post. Wysocky also applied but was not a finalist.
Zane said she felt it would be a “tall order” for Wysocky to match the experience and expertise of Sundstrom, who was hired after a nationwide search.
“I think Mr. Wysocky is going to have to convince the public that his capable of investing a portfolio $1.5 billion and manage 175,000 tax bills, not to mention being a fiscal agent to all the special districts,” Zane said.
While he acknowledged there will be a learning curve, Wysocky said his lack of experience in a fulltime government finance position doesn’t mean he is not qualified for the position.
He pointed to his CPA practice and City Council service as evidence that he has both the qualifications and the skills to oversee the county’s treasury and manage a staff of 94.
“I’ve done every function of the treasurer’s function in my private practice,” said Wysocky, who works from an office behind his home in the Junior College neighborhood. He managed about 20 people in a department of a large accounting firm early in his career, but has spent most of his career in private practice.
As a councilman, Wysocky has been a persistent budget hawk, pushing for greater sacrifices from employee groups, questioning whether the city’s pension plans are sustainable, and demanding more detailed budget presentations.
Just two months ago Wysocky voted against the city’s current $340 million budget, arguing that it wasn’t balanced as City Manager Kathy Millison claimed because it understated future pension liabilities.
The council is receiving an update from its actuary Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to learn just how much future pension costs are expected to rise.
Wysocky said he has similar concerns about how the county accounts for its pension costs. He said he wants to ensure such costs don’t get passed on to the next generation.
As auditor-controller-treasurer-tax collector, however, Wysocky wouldn’t be in a decision making role regarding the budget. That’s the job of the supervisors. But he said he could be instrumental in those discussions by making sure the right information is presented to them and the public.
“My record as a city councilman over one of the largest budgets in the county shows that I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m not afraid to put the information out there,” Wysocky said. “Until you put those numbers in front of the supervisors, they’re not going to make those decisions.”
Regarding his medical condition, Wysocky said he struggled with whether to go public with it, previously considering it a private medical matter. He said his wife and two daughters helped convince him to be open about his condition.
He had his first seizure in early 2009, just months after his first election to the City Council. One minute he was in a hotel room in Lake Tahoe with wife, Carol, and the next thing he knew he was in the back of an ambulance. He has had a handful of others since, one in an airport in Las Vegas, another most recently in his backyard two months ago while watering plants, he said.
In that latest attack, he struck his face on something when he fell. The injury was visible when he attended a City Council meeting, though he declined to discuss it at the time. He is on medication for the condition, which has helped moderate the seizures, he said.
He didn’t disclose the illness when he ran for city council in 2012. But when he decided to run for the county post, he said he realized it was time to be more open about his condition.
“I just feel all public officials should be as transparent as possible,” Wysocky said. “I just want people to feel comfortable with who I am.”
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. OnTwitter@citybeater