Serving as an elected auditor of a municipality or county can be a peaceful, low-stress job.
You have clerks who handle the bulk of the day-to-day activities. If someone asks for a record, you give it to them. If a council member or a mayor or a commissioner – or any member of the public — asks for some statistics or fund balances, or poses a question, you supply it, or answer to the best of your ability.
When someone submits a purchase order or invoice, you process it. If you have questions about whether it’s legal or ethical, you ask your law director or your county prosecutor. If they say it’s ok, you do it. If they say it’s not, you don’t. Life can truly be that simple, if you want it to be.
Then, there’s the other way to do it.
What I like about Bill Fawley, our county auditor, is that he pretty much follows the simple way of doing his job. He doesn’t make it complicated, vindictive or controversial.
I know Bill. Many of you know Bill, too. He has opinions. There are people he likes better than other people, but you would never know it from the way he performs his duties. Even when people are rude or disrespectful to him, he treats them politely.
In a story we did a while back on Bill’s decision to seek an eighth term, he said something that jumped out at me. He was discussing times when many of the townships were figuring out what to do about fire and EMS coverage, or when he was asked to provide information about a proposed downtown redevelopment district in Hillsboro. There were lots of questions about taxes and millage.
Bill was describing all the meetings he attended, doing his best to provide factual information while keeping his own opinion to himself.
“I don’t tell people they should be in favor or opposed,” Bill said. “I just explain the facts.” When someone tries to get Bill to offer an opinion during meetings on a legislative issue, he usually smiles and replies, “That’s your decision. I’m just here to answer questions.”
Bill doesn’t try to be an auditor, prosecutor, commissioner, judge and private detective all wrapped into one. He understands the role he plays, the parameters of the job to which he was elected. With that approach, Bill has won lots of admirers, including from a very diverse group of local officeholders.
In our profile of Bill, Hillsboro Mayor Drew Hastings said, “I have found him to be very open and helpful. He’s always willing to tell you about everything on a subject.”
Shane Wilkin, the county commission president, said, “Bill’s knowledge of the budget, the reason behind things that were done in the past, and his history and experience are invaluable, especially when new people come into office.”
Highland County Common Pleas Judge Rocky Coss said, “He’s not hard to work with. He’s always responsive to issues.”
Anneka Collins, the Highland County prosecutor, agreed that Bill is “easy to work with,” adding that he has an impressive memory about why decisions that continue to have an impact were made in years past.
Open. Knowledgeable. Easy to work with. Responsive. Helpful.
I doubt anyone can remember the last time Bill challenged the opinion of the prosecutor, or said he was going around her for legal advice, or got into a public war of words with another elected official.
If the media asks him a question he might not like, Bill doesn’t respond by name-calling, or claim later that the story was unfair, or get upset because what he said was what was reported. One reason for that is that he is highly unlikely to say anything in an interview that he later regrets saying, or send emails to his fellow officeholders insulting or criticizing others.
He understands that sometimes his job is to answer questions, explain things so people can understand them, and clear up misunderstandings rather than start them. He has never gone on social media to argue with people (and I would bet the farm that he doesn’t do so using pseudonyms, either).
When I worked in politics and taught media relations for candidates and officeholders, one of the points I stressed was not to complain even when they felt the media coverage was unfair. If you want to question their coverage, have a polite, civil conversation with a reporter or editor, but otherwise, stay focused on your jobs and don’t worry about the media doing its job.
Another thing I like about Bill is that he’s always available, day or night. I’ve sometimes called him on his cell phone at 8 or 9 at night or on weekends. He always takes my call and answers my questions, or calls me back soon after.
Overall, Bill keeps his job and his life low on the stress scale, because he understands the role of the auditor – what it is, and what it’s not.
Yes, there are two ways to be an auditor. Bill’s way seems to work nicely. It’s a template for others to follow.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456, or follow on Twitter @AbernathyGary.