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Auditor at peace with ‘most difficult’ job

Auditor at peace with ‘most difficult’ job
Auditor at peace with ‘most difficult’ job
Harrison County Auditor Patricia Wolfe at the commissioners' meeting Monday. (Photo by Randy West)

A few years ago, when Patricia Wolfe was the Harrison County Assessor, Andrew Best of Corydon, a retired federal auditor who was once (and may still be) privy to much insider information in the nation’s capital, stopped in for a chat with Wolfe.
‘There’s only three reasons people get into politics,’ he told her. ‘Power, sex and money.’
Wolfe thought about that for a moment.
‘Well, Andrew,’ she said. ‘I’m just the assessor. I don’t have any power. I’ve been married to the same man for 35 years, so I’m surely not after sex. And I live in a glass house ‘ you’re welcome to look at my bank account. You can tell I don’t have any money besides what I earn here.
‘How do you explain me?’
Best peered down his nose in his most serious, knowing manner and said, ‘I don’t know, Pat. You’re just a political fluke.’
‘Only Andrew could deliver a line like that!’ Wolfe said last week with a laugh.
Fluke or not, Patricia Ann Wolfe, a Democrat from near New Middletown, returned to politics last year after a four-year hiatus. She was elected auditor in 2002 and took office Jan. 1, 2003.
As auditor, Wolfe holds what some folks believe is the most difficult position in the courthouse, at least from a financial standpoint.
In part, that’s because more than $80.5 million were receipted into the office just last year, and $77.9 million went out in the form of bill payments, payroll ($3.5 million), payments of money collected for other taxing entities, schools and departments. With the amount carried forward from 2002, Harrison County had cash and investments on hand totalling $40.8 million at the end of the year.
‘We are in great financial shape,’ Wolfe said.
Keeping track of all that money, plus all the other responsibilities of the auditor, is a task not easily learned overnight, she said.
For those reasons, Wolfe said it is essential to begin the job with an experienced staff. The days when an officeholder could sweep out the former officeholder’s staff and start the job with all new deputies is apparently gone forever.
Before she took office, Wolfe said the staff really wasn’t sure what to expect from her.
‘The first goal I had when I took office was to calm the office down,’ she said. ‘There had been so many rumors, and you could feel the tension in the atmosphere. After about two weeks, I began to see a different set of faces, and the body language was more relaxed.
‘Today, you hear the sound of laughter in the office. I like staff being happy. I believe a better work atmosphere causes people to produce better work.’
Part of that is a reflection of the auditor herself.
‘She’s always in a happy mood,’ said second deputy Carolyn Lowe. ‘That really helps the atmosphere.’
Prior to taking office, Wolfe notified each member of the staff by letter that their jobs would be secure when the transition was made.
‘Everything went pretty smooth,’ said Carol Hauswald, another second deputy.
‘We’re all still doing what we did before. We’ve all been here long enough that we pretty much know what we do,’ she said. ‘If you came in with nobody in here with experience, you would have a hard time.’
The only position Wolfe has filled so far has been the first deputy, who along with her other assigned duties is responsible in the auditor’s absence.
Even though Heather Metcalf, Wolfe’s first deputy, was new, she had begun training while Auditor Karen Shireman was still in office.
‘I have a lot of respect and admiration for Karen,’ Wolfe said, because she was shorthanded her last year in office and took Heather in to train her, which wasn’t easy. ‘Sometimes she was trying to train her and Karen would be called away.’
‘It was very beneficial for me to be in the office the last month of the year,’ Metcalf said, referring to the year-end procedures that must be followed.
‘I could see how the office worked with Karen, and how things were run before and see if I could keep them running in the same direction.
‘We had a nice, smooth transition.’
Keeping in step with developments county-wide is vital for the auditor’s office, which also serves as the recording secretary for the commissioners and the county council.
Basically, the auditor is responsible for three areas: finances, tax billing and mapping. Demands for information or assistance come from residents, other officeholders, the commissioners and council members, and the State Board of Accounts.
‘It is so important to get the information correct,’ Wolfe said.
Since the influx of riverboat money, which finances myriad requests, projects and programs that require the action of county officials, keeping those records is a never-ending challenge.
In 2003, 87 official meetings were held ‘ all required minutes, Wolfe said. Those included regular sessions, executive (closed) sessions and special meetings. Renovation of the courthouse and other projects necessitated many of those meetings.
‘There have been many decisions made that will impact this county for years to come,’ Wolfe said.
‘Being secretary to both bodies can be at times a very sticky situation,’ Wolfe said. ‘I do know you need to have a tough skin, not get your feelings hurt easily, and be extra courteous, kind and long suffering.
‘However, I must tell you since taking this office my blood pressure and cholesterol is down.
‘The only explanation I have for this is I am exactly where God wants me to be. I asked for His direction about running for this office, and when I felt led to sign up, I told Him He would have to make the way,’ Wolfe said. ‘I can only say He has, and I am at peace.’