Merced County employees union endorses Richard St. Marie for treasurer-tax collector

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comMay 5, 2014 

The candidate challenging Merced County Treasurer-Tax Collector Karen Adams in the primary election scored a hefty endorsement Monday – one driven by many of Adams’ subordinates.

The Merced County Public Employees Union Local 1 announced its unanimous support of Richard St. Marie, who is running against Adams in June. Adams has run unopposed since her election in 2002.

The union represents 308 clerical employees in the county, including the majority of workers in the Revenue & Reimbursement Division, which is managed by Adams.

Union president Shawnesti Machado said the endorsement of St. Marie was unanimous among the five executive board members and all union members. “We only had requests to endorse St. Marie. There were no requests to endorse the incumbent (Adams),” Machado said. “We agree that change is needed for the betterment of the employees’ well-being at work.”

Machado said complaints of sexual harassment and odd behavior by Adams, which were substantiated in 2011 by an independent investigator, played a big part in the endorsement. Another factor was a recent Merced Sun-Star article about Adams’ decision to stop bank seizures and refund money to a politically connected business owner who owed thousands in back taxes.

“It shed light on her questionable tax decisions favoring specific groups and businesses over others,” a news release from the union said. Machado said it exemplified “cronyism and pay-for-play politics.”

In an interview with the Sun-Star, Machado said workers are still expressing concerns about Adams’ management style. “The members have said she’s not professional and (is) absent in the R&R department,” she said. “They are the ones day in and day out that do the work and know the management of the department.”

Adams responded Monday by saying she has earned the endorsements of the Merced-Mariposa Central Labor Council, the Southeast Asian American Professional Association and the Merced Police Officers Association.

An endorsement has not been made by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2703, which represents 75 percent of county employees, although AFSCME is a part of the Central Labor Council. An endorsement could come in the “near future,” said business agent Kristy Waskiewicz.

Adams noted she wasn’t given the opportunity to meet with representatives of Local 1. She said she isn’t surprised the clerical staff from Revenue & Reimbursement endorsed her challenger, but maintains she’s always supported that department.

“I know they’ve held me accountable for some of the decline in revenue, but that’s incorrect,” Adams said. “I’ve always tried to support them in every way possible and tried to increase the client base.”

Adams said her role as county treasurer is No. 1, but that she frequently communicates with Revenue & Reimbursement. For example, Adams said she “sounded the alarm” and contacted Human Resources after receiving complaints from staff about collections supervisor Anthony Thompson.

“I’m the one who took their complaints seriously,” Adams said.

Thompson, who retired Feb. 14, was arrested by the Sheriff’s Department on Feb. 11, on suspicion of offering to reduce fines and fees owed to the county for at least one woman in exchange for “dates.” No charges have been filed against Thompson and the case remains under investigation.

Adams said the 2011 complaints against her have been settled and were based on a worker’s performance issues. “My qualifications is what I’m standing on,” she said, “not a report from 2011.”

St. Marie said Monday he’s humbled by the endorsement, which he called a testament to the fact that personnel are “fed up.”

“I find it very hard to believe that after being in a position for 12 years that she would have no support from the employees and that speaks volumes,” said St. Marie, who is the director of administrative services for the Sheriff’s Department. “That tells me you’re not a good manager, a good supervisor, a good leader, and those are the things I can bring to the table.”

St. Marie said the workers see the need for change. “This endorsement means the world to me,” he said. “I could not ask for more support.”

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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