Stanislaus County's 28-year drought of contested races for the lower-profile position of auditor-controller may come to an end this election season.
Those second- and third-in-command to retiring Auditor-Controller Larry Haugh have pulled papers indicating potential candidacy on the June ballot.
Stephen F. Smith, assistant auditor-controller for eight years, took a form to gather support signatures Jan. 25. He was "surprised, but polite" when Lauren Klein, chief deputy auditor-controller since Jan. 1, informed Smith she intends to challenge him and pulled papers three days after he did, she said.
Klein issued a news release and answered questions about her candidacy Monday. Smith declined Tuesday to say whether he is running and did not return several calls Monday and Tuesday.
The filing deadline is March 17.
Haugh, at the helm of county accounting since April 2001, said he will stay neutral. He leaves in January; his successor could be chosen in June if one candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.
The auditor-controller functions as the county's chief financial officer. The department employs 44 people, down about 10 jobs since the late 1980s, Haugh said.
Smith and Klein are 54-year-old certified public accountants and Modesto residents.
Smith was assistant controller at the former Scenic General Hospital and chief internal auditor before being promoted to Haugh's assistant in 2002, according to a Bee report at the time.
Klein was born and raised in Modesto. She graduated in 1973 from Grace Davis High School, where her father, Carl Parrill, was varsity basketball coach. She worked in public accounting in the Bay Area before returning to Modesto seven years ago, she said.
Klein left a private firm and joined the county four years ago. She reported to Smith and to Haugh as internal audit manager before Haugh appointed her as chief deputy.
"We're very polite and cordial with one another," Klein said of Smith.
She believes she has "more well-rounded skills," but does not intend to "say anything negative at all about Stephen. I don't want to operate that type of campaign," she said.
The last campaign for auditor-controller occurred in 1982, when office employee Jack Newell fended off Dennis Goodman, an accountant with a state agency, to succeed Robert Hubbard, who had held the post since 1967.
Since then, auditor-controllers Newell, Wallace Morrow and Byron Bystrom were succeeded by their assistants when they retired and all ran unopposed every four years, including Haugh in 2002 and 2006.
Auditor-controllers disburse payments and provide financial information to the public and the county's 27 departments. Klein said her auditing skills could pinpoint efficiencies at a time when the county's financial prospects have never faced greater challenges.
County officials have laid off hundreds of employees, closed a $40 million budget gap largely with reserves and face a $20 million deficit in the fiscal year that starts July 1.
"I think I bring a little more fresh perspective because I haven't been with the county for 25 or 30 years," Klein said. She will raise money, walk precincts and seek endorsements, she said.
Haugh, who earned $157,791 in 2008, will have worked for the county 30 years when he leaves. "I think it's time for me to let some new blood and new eyes step into that position," he said.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2390.