Candidate pulls papers to challenge Karen Adams

02/21/2014 8:13 PM

02/21/2014 11:41 PM

For the first time in nearly 10 years, an elected official whose career was marred by controversy will be challenged in the upcoming election.

Richard St. Marie, the director of administrative services at the Sheriff’s Department, announced his candidacy for the treasurer-tax collector office on Friday. The 48-year-old pulled nomination papers late Thursday, according to the Merced County elections office.

St. Marie will run against incumbent Karen Adams, who was elected to the office in 2002. Adams sought re-election and ran unopposed in both the 2006 and 2010 elections.

“I just felt like the people should have a choice,” St. Marie said Friday. “I’m actually kind of shocked at some of the things that are going on, and I felt it was time to step up to the plate and give the voters an option.”

A 2011 report detailed several instances of inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace by Adams, who was accused of creating a hostile work environment and making employees uncomfortable with odd behavior.

The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously took action against Adams, who was the treasurer-tax collector, clerk and registrar of voters at the time, by censuring her and taking away her duties as registrar of voters.

Because Adams was an elected official, the board couldn’t take away her duties as treasurer-tax collector.

Controversy struck again this month when authorities arrested one of Adams’ employees, Anthony J. Thompson, in a sexual bribery case. Investigators believe Thompson offered to reduce fines and fees owed to the county for at least one woman in exchange for “dates.”

St. Marie said he watched the controversy unfold, and it was one of the reasons he decided to run for office.

“This most recent incident, we don’t know how deep it goes and how many thousands of dollars were lost,” St. Marie said. “I’m seeing this broken department and I’m seeing that it could be so much more than it is now.”

St. Marie, who manages an annual budget of $40 million to $48 million for the Sheriff’s Department, said he would bring strong oversight to the tax collector’s office. If elected, St. Marie said, he would determine the amount of lost revenue and work to restore the team’s confidence.

“My whole campaign is based on honesty, integrity and accountability,” he said “That’s what I can bring to the table and that’s what I’m going to require of the employees.”

St. Marie has worked at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department for 20 years. He worked eight years for Fresno County. Also in the 1990s, he sat on the Dos Palos City Council for two years. St. Marie has been a lifelong resident of Merced County.

St. Marie said he contemplated running for county treasurer-tax collector for more than a year before making the decision this week. He said his announcement was greeted by support from Sheriff Tom Cavallero and members of the community.

“My phone has been ringing off the hook today,” St. Marie said. “It’s all been very supportive, and I’m very honored and actually surprised by the amount of support.”

Adams said Friday she was “surprised” to learn another candidate had pulled papers to run against her in the June election. “Every candidate would like to have no opposition,” Adams said. “I’m very fortunate and I have a great staff, so I look forward to being re-elected and continuing what I do.”

Adams said she’s concerned with the local media’s representation of the recent issues, but doesn’t believe the controversy will affect her campaign. Adams told the Merced Sun-Star she supported her employees more than a year ago when they came to her with concerns.

“The Thompson issue was poor timing, and now the Sun-Star has made me out to be the bad person. But a year ago I took employee complaints very seriously,” Adams said. “Regardless of what people think about what happened in 2011, there’s always two sides to every story,”

Adams said she brings a strong background in investments to the position.

“You can have a lot of experience in budget, but the investment market is something that I have,” she said. “I’m not sure if St. Marie has the investment background, but I’m in the market and I’m very fortunate I’ve some established relationships with institutional brokers.”

District 3 Supervisor Linn Davis, vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said having another candidate vying for the treasurer-tax collector position gives voters more options.

“I’ve got three people running against me, and that’s what this country is all about,” Davis said. “It gives the people another choice.”

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