Early results on election night proved an accurate assessment of the eventual outcome in the race for city treasurer of Laguna Beach, with the 17-year incumbent Laura Parisi coming out on top.
Of Laguna’s 16,934 registered voters, 5,686 or 66.6 percent cast their vote for Parisi and 2,862 or 33.5 percent voted for challenger Anne McGraw. Late arriving mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.
Early Wednesday Parisi expressed gratitude to Laguna’s voters for “their continued confidence,” and said in a phone interview that she “promises to work hard over the next fours years to maintain that confidence.”
After the results were in, McGraw said, “running for city treasurer has been an honor. I have made so many friends, learned so much about our local government, seen the power of knowledge and shared information about a position that not many people know about.”
She expressed pride in her campaign, which she said focused on facts and principles rather than personalities and hopes it serves as an example to others to do the same.
McGraw ran on a platform that questioned the necessity of electing a certified public accountant to the job. In an Aug. 26 public debate she questioned Parisi’s salary, investment strategies and expanded duties, which she said, “are more appropriate for the city’s finance department.”
According to transparentcalifornia.org Parisi’s base salary is $80,479 per year, plus benefits for a total of $148,074. “For the last several years, the council granted her exceptional performance pay, up to 5%, and Laura has also taken the additional responsibility of reviewing our hotel bed tax, the transient occupancy tax,” supporter and council member Toni Iseman wrote in a letter to the Indy on Nov. 4.
Base salaries for the Aliso Viejo and Laguna Woods treasurers are $163,102 and $86,166, respectively, the site says.
In another public debate on Sept. 3, Parisi defended her performance. “My work has contributed over $21 million to Laguna Beach funds by savvy investing.”
In a statement announcing her candidacy, Parisi said her management of the city’s investments this year generated $860,000 in income, $200,000 more than anticipated. She also noted that her efforts to refinance assessment-district bonds generated $1.3 million in savings to property owners. By auditing Business Improvement District taxes and hotel bed taxes, she said she saved the cost of outside consulting fees.
McGraw, a 24-year resident, owns a bookkeeping business and is the treasurer of the Woman’s Club. “This is a natural extension of what I already do. I think I could save the city a lot of money. I’ve done a lot of research and a lot of money is being spent and could be saved in the role of the treasurer,” Mc Graw said in a June interview after announcing her candidacy. Her literature touted endorsements by incumbent and former elected officials.
During her time in office Parisi pointed out that city revenue has doubled and investment funds have tripled. She said her goal has been to provide internal controls and to identify areas to improve financial transparency. “The job goes beyond book-keeping and requires experience in compliance with city, state and federal regulations,” she added.
McGraw outspent the campaign winner. Parisi disclosed raising $5,244 as of Oct. 22, with $1,594 of that a personal loan. By comparison, McGraw raised $8,005.
Parisi has requested the city council increase her hours to full-time for the past 10 years, most recently in February when they voted 4-1 to keep the elected city treasurer’s position part-time. Stressing that the decision was not about the person but about the position, the council supported the findings of a report by personnel consultant Mark Flannery, who was hired by the city attorney, which compared job duties of other elected part-time city treasurers in Brea, San Clemente and Placentia to that of the treasurer’s tasks in Laguna Beach.
Parisi disputed the report’s comparisons, which she said failed to take into account responsibilities she manages that other cities delegate to city finance staff and hired consultants. Another duty she said she serves is as an internal control or second-set-of eyes for the city’s finance department. She found mistakes in the city’s accounting practices that were corrected before problems ensued, she noted. “Last year, we had a problem,” she said, “and we had a breakdown in those internal controls. The city should have put more internal controls in place given the issues that we had rather than keep things at status quo.”
State law requires only that a city treasurer reside in the same city and is a registered voter, the report stated.
McGraw maintained her position in an Oct. 28 letter to the editor stating, “the city treasurer is a part-time, elected position… elected positions aren’t meant to be lifetime careers.”
She also wrote, “There is no other Orange County city treasurer with these benefits. There are also no tax duties associated with the elected treasurer position and our city is paying a CPA for tasks that should be performed by an accounting clerk.”