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Kelsey Hayes Coots, Sheri Donahue, and Chris Tobe

(Editor’s Note: Part of a series spotlighting candidates in the May 2019 primary)

Three Democratic challengers will compete on Tuesday, May 21, for the office of state Auditor of Public Accounts to face incumbent Auditor Mike Harmon in the fall.

Those candidates in alphabetical order are Kelsey Hayes Coots of Louisville, Sheri Donahue of Frankfort, and Chris Tobe of Anchorage. Drew Curtis withdrew from the race on April 11.

Kelsey Hayes Coots

Coots is an eighth grade teacher in the Jefferson County Public Schools, where she is a team leader and member of her site-based decision making council. She also is an organizer for KY 120 United, which supports teachers and state workers.

• What best qualifies you to be auditor?

I am the only candidate in this race that has a complete vision for the Auditor’s office and I’m the problem-solver that the office needs. I have the experience as a leader and the proven record of accomplishment to completely democratize the Auditor’s office. I am humbled to be endorsed by Teamsters 89, Teamsters 783, CWA Local 3310, IUE-CWA Local 83761, the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association and the NFCO/SEIU Local 32BJ, as well as other political leaders. They all agree that I am the proven leader that is needed for this role.

The Auditor sets the tone and vision for the office and ensures that the office is run effectively. The deputies, who must be CPAs per state statute, and the merit employees who are highly trained in the technical skills of auditing, are on the front lines doing the day to day auditing. Part of my platform, that you can read on, is about democratizing the office to make it and the audits that are released more accessible and navigable for all. My experience as a teacher, where I break down concepts for others daily, makes me the perfect fit to execute my vision.

What is the most pressing issue of the auditor’s office and how would you tackle it?

Kentucky is, according to multiple assessments, the most corrupt state in the nation. That means that money that should fund schools, or go to other things that make our communities better, is being pushed into sweetheart deals buying things we don’t need at a price we can’t afford. It means that trust isn’t the word that comes to mind when people think of their government.

Kentucky deserves a State Auditor who will use the power of the office to tamp down on corruption, and ensure that our dollars are going to things to benefit the people of Kentucky.

 In my office, I will restore trust in government as I strengthen accountability and increase transparency. Not only will I be an independent watchdog of taxpayer dollars while working to root out waste and fraud, but I will also work to celebrate those who practice ethical government in their offices across the Commonwealth. I will overhaul the Auditor’s website, and democratize the office by making it easier to navigate and more accessible to everyday people. I will increase awareness of the SAFE-house program, the program where people can anonymously report waste and fraud and I will make Audits more accessible to Kentuckians.

Sheri Donahue

Donahue received an industrial engineering degree from Purdue University. For 20 years she audited multi-million dollar weapons systems projects and managed classified intelligence contracts for the U.S. Navy. She also worked on intelligence projects for the FBI and cybersecurity issues for Humana.

• What best qualifies you to be auditor?

I know that I have the experience and proven record of accomplishment that makes me uniquely qualified to be your Kentucky Auditor.

I have over 30 years of experience auditing contracts, weapons systems and technologies ranging from $65 million into the tens of billions of dollars. I have managed teams as small as eight to an organization of over 50,000. I have commendations for my work from the United States Navy and Army as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I am ready to be your Auditor on day one.

Since I was in my 20s, I have stood up to billion-dollar defense contractors and the bureaucrats of the military industrial complex, and I have won! So, Kentucky bureaucrats and Matt Bevin do not scare me!

• What is the most pressing issue of the auditor’s office and how would you tackle it?

The Auditor’s office faces numerous challenges, but one of the biggest is the changing nature of auditing and the lack of resources and guidance to adapt to the 21st Century realities. Most state transactions are now done by computer. Auditing is less about paper and pens and more about ones and zeros. We must modernize and professionalize the IT Audits of the state and local governments!

Just this year the City of Tallahassee reported it had $500,000 in payroll stolen. The Minnesota Department of Human Services revealed it had been attacked three times since January compromising information of tens of thousands of state employees and citizens, and Jackson County, Georgia, paid $400,000 to cyber-criminals to get rid of a ransomware infection and regain access to their IT systems.

There is bipartisan agreement that our adversaries have attempted to hack voting machines and exploit vulnerabilities in our elections system. According to the FBI all 50 states are being targeted by foreign intelligence services. I will make auditing electronic voting machines a standard part of all county audits.

I will reorganize the Auditor’s office giving IT Security its own division and hire IT professionals to run it. I will also search out grant money to pay for much needed modernization of training, software and equipment. 

When voting, registering your car or paying your taxes, you should be confident that your information is safe and secure.

Chris Tobe

Tobe has master’s degrees in finance and accounting from Indiana University, and has more than 25 years of experience in those fields. He worked in the state auditor’s office for Ed Hatchett on pension issues in the late 1990s.

• What best qualifies you to be auditor?

I bring over 25 years of financial experience and specific experience in the Kentucky State Auditor’s serving Ed Hatchett nearly three years working on audits of pensions, universities, school districts, state cash investments and the lottery.

I am by far the most qualified candidate with master’s degrees in both Accounting & Finance (from Indiana U. Bloomington) and as a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst). I’ve dedicated my professional career to advising large states across the country on their pensions hired by the Utah Legislative Auditor and the Maryland Retirements System internal auditor to review complex investments in pensions. I have taught finance and accounting classes at U. of Louisville, Bellarmine, & Webster. As a 4-year public pension trustee for KRS, I completed the Program for Advanced Trustee Studies at Harvard Law School and Fiduciary College held at the Stanford University. There is no one better prepared to be your next Auditor of Kentucky. That's all I want to do. I have absolutely no future political ambitions. Zero. None.

• What is the most pressing issue of the auditor’s office and how would you tackle it?

Pensions are the #1 issue. As auditor, I will expose the funding games played in the last few years which may appear to be an improvement, but basically were unfunded mandates shifting costs onto Cities, Counties, and School Districts. I will expose the illegal investments many in off-shore secret no-bid contracts.

As the Kentucky Retirement System Board member who discovered and publicly exposed the graft and corruption in our pension system, I know where the proverbial bodies are buried. I even wrote a book about it called “Kentucky Fried Pensions.” 

While many Kentuckians may have been tricked into thinking that Governor Bevin is improving the pensions, I have not been fooled by his games and neither have the rating agencies as both Moody’s and S&P have downgraded the state on pensions during his term. 

Fixing pensions starts with transparency in funding and investments which I will provide.

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