On a sunny afternoon, in front of an enthusiastic Old Town crowd, Cheryl Dillingham — finance manager for the city of Rio Dell — officially announced that she would challenge incumbent Karen Paz Dominguez for the office of Humboldt County Auditor-Controller.
“I don’t like public speaking or politics,” said the candidate, kicking off a four-minute campaign speech. “I’m really most comfortable doing accounting and dealing with numbers. I’m here today, speaking to you, because there is an urgent need to fix the county’s accounting and reporting, and I’m asking for your vote as your Auditor-Controller.”
A 12-year employee of the Auditor-Controller’s office and former interim leader of the department, Dillingham holds a bachelor’s degree in math and an MBA from Humboldt State, and said she has performed every job in the office. She said her experience makes her “uniquely qualified” to understand “the challenges facing the department and how to correct them.”
“Audits and financial reports may sound dull and unimportant, but that’s the job,” Dillingham said. “Not getting the work done on time does not create transparency for the public. It does not foster trust in government.”
Under Paz Dominguez, the Auditor-Controller’s Office has been chronically late in submitting required reports to state agencies, which has placed grant funding at risk, and Dillingham sought, late in her speech, to make this concrete.
“Children’s services, social programs, homelessness issues, food insecurity, trails, roads, conserving forests, economic development, environmental protection, affordable housing — all of these important programs are put at risk by the failure to get annual audits done on time,” she said.
Dillingham was introduced by three speakers: Department of Health and Human Services employee Mychal Evenson, who briefly ran for the position before dropping out in favor of Dillingham; former Third District Supervisor Mark Lovelace; and Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes. Each of them attested to the candidates bona fides.
“I’ve really stayed out of politics since dropping off the Board of Supervisors six years ago,” said Lovelace. “But when I heard Cheryl Dillingham was running to be our next Auditor-Controller I had to get involved. Because I had the opportunity to work with Cheryl for eight years when I was on the board, and I know her to be extremely capable, competent, responsible and easy to work with. And she’d be a great Auditor-Controller for Humboldt County.”
In keeping with the tenor of the event, Lovelace’s references to Paz Dominguez’s rocky stewardship of the office over the last three years were kept oblique. He talked about the critical importance of the office to a vast array of local services, including those not offered directly by the county, and lauded Dillingham’s hard-working ethos and her aversion to “drama.”
“The better the Auditor-Controller is doing her job, the less you’ll be hearing her name in the news,” Lovelace said.
Rio Dell Mayor Debra Garnes — who led the crowd in a chant of “Dil! Ing! Ham!” before commencing her comments — praised the candidate for her work with the city, especially singling out her timeliness and her ability to communicate complicated ideas to the council.
She also warned that Humboldt County stands to lose out on the massive amount of funding trickling out to local governments from the federal infrastructure unless it gets its financial house in order.
“Probably the largest infrastructure bill of our generation has been signed by the president,” she said. “Humboldt County has to get its books in order, and it has to do it fast, so we get all the benefits. All the cities, all the townships, everyone in Humboldt County can benefit if Humboldt County gets its books in order. And that’s what Cheryl Dillingham can do.”
Numerous notable government employees and elected officials were in attendance, including Supervisors Virginia Bass and Rex Bohn, Department of Health and Human Services Director Connie Beck, Economic Development Director Scott Adair, Treasurer Tax-Collector John Bartholomew and more.
Find a Facebook video of the event posted by North Coast News below: