For the first time in more than a decade, Merced County Treasurer-Tax Collector Karen Adams felt pressure from a challenger during election season – but the 56-year-old successfully beat her opponent for re-election Tuesday.
With 103 of the 126 precincts reporting, Adams had earned 54.16 percent of the vote. Her opponent, Richard St. Marie, 48, trailed behind at 45.42 percent as of press time Tuesday.
Adams, who was elected in 2002, ran unopposed in the 2006 and 2010 elections. St. Marie, the director of administrative services at the Sheriff’s Department, announced his candidacy for the treasurer-tax collector office in late March.
Though he spent the past 30 years working in local government roles, it was St. Marie’s first attempt at a Merced County elected office. He gathered with friends and family inside his Merced home Tuesday night to watch the election results.
“I’m a little disappointed,” St. Marie said, “but if the voting public feels she’s the best person for the job, then she is the best person for the job.”
The treasurer-tax collector race pitted two longtime Merced County officials against one another.
St. Marie was criticized for not having accounting and investment experience, but leaned on his job at the Sheriff’s Department, where he oversees a $46 million budget. Adams touted her background as a certified public accountant and her degree in accounting, while St. Marie took swings at her controversial past.
In 2011, Adams was investigated on claims of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior – claims that were substantiated by an independent investigator. The Merced County Board of Supervisors unanimously censured Adams and stripped her duties as registrar of voters.
Adams’ office made headlines again in February when authorities arrested one of her managers, Anthony J. Thompson, in a sexual bribery investigation. Investigators believe Thompson offered to reduce fines and fees owed to the county for at least one woman in exchange for “dates.”
Adams once again faced scrutiny for a decision made in August to stop bank seizures, a collection method for delinquent taxes, and refund money to a politically connected business owner who owed thousands in back taxes. Adams said she stopped the process because of a few “illegal seizures” and hasn’t reinstated the collection method yet.
Adams did not return calls for comment Tuesday.
St. Marie said his biggest downfall in the primary election was getting into the race late. He entered the race in March.
“I was an unknown to a lot of people and that may have worried them,” he said. “I think if there would have been a little more time, things would have been different."
“It’s unfortunate that it appears that the voters approve of the way she conducts business. It’s sad," he added.
“I feel sad for the employees and the public,” he continued. “I think they deserve better, but obviously the majority feels differently.”