Michelle Bednar said her experience collecting property taxes from strapped residents increases her determination to safeguard their forced investment in Luzerne County government if she’s elected county controller.
“People try to pay in installments because they don’t have the money. Some become delinquent because they need their income tax refund to pay. It’s heartbreaking to see how people are struggling,” said the Conyngham Township resident, who serves as the municipality’s elected tax collector since 2009.
Bednar said she’s developed skills that would make her an effective controller through her private-sector work in banks and financial investment companies as an office manager, financial/payroll supervisor and corporate trust supervisor.
These industries are highly regulated, and Bednar said she’s accustomed to checks and balances, strict policies and procedures — and penalties for failure to follow them.
“I’m from a world where compliance is a big issue. It’s very regimented,” Bednar said.
These same principles should apply to county finances, and Bednar said she will be focusing on protocol.
“I’ve always known what red flags to look for and strive to correct small problems before they escalate into major ones,” Bednar said.
If county audits detect weaknesses, Bednar said she would press for corrective action. She points to references to incomplete policies and procedures in county audits completed in recent years.
“If they’re still not in place, I would find out why and change that,” Bednar said.
Former county Controller Walter Griffith has complained his recommendations for improvements have largely fallen on deaf ears. Bednar said she would publicly highlight needed changes if officials refuse to implement them, though she’s not presuming she will meet resistance imposing feasible and warranted procedures.
People shouldn’t misread her soft-spoken and amiable disposition as a sign she’d be a timid controller, Bednar said.
She said she stands her ground and defends her position in her personal and professional life and would do the same as county controller.
“I have no problem asserting myself,” she said. “In my work now, I have to take charge.”
Bednar also said she’s not too proud to ask questions and would seek input from all parties involved in an issue before reaching a conclusion.
She would issue a periodic public report outlining the work completed by her office and said she supports council’s plans for controller updates at council meetings.
“Communication is a huge factor for me. I want to keep the public informed,” Bednar said.
Describing herself as a multi-tasker, Bednar said she decided to run for a post that would thrust her into the public limelight for the first time because believes she could institute change.
“For the past 25 years, I feel I’ve been working up to this,” Bednar said. “I know I can do the job.”
She said she has cross-trained in both operations and finance and supervised payroll and bookkeeping.
She rattled off examples of her private-sector work experience relevant in the controller post: gathering data for auditors and resolving their questions about accounts; creating monthly reports on loans, bonds and other accounts; processing loan and bond documents; and reconciling funds to ensure all deposits and withdrawals were properly documented.
“I’m very familiar with finance terminology and am very computer literate,” Bednar said.
Bednar also said she’s a stickler for details.
“I like paper trails. Sometimes it’s extra work, but you need that record to determine if everything is in order,” she said.
Bednar unsuccessfully ran for county council in 2011.
Though some told her she wouldn’t have a chance, she decided to run in the May primary against Stephen A. Urban, a county councilman and former 12-year county commissioner with high name recognition. She has said many presumed beating her would be a “walk in the park.”
Bednar and her supporters credited her win on her financial experience, grassroots campaign and desire for a fresh face, though Urban has accused her of misleading negative campaigning.
Her committee, the Friends of Bednar, received and spent around $14,000 in the May primary, and Bednar received 12,103 votes in May, compared to 8,363 for Urban. Bednar initially faced incumbent Walter Griffith, but county Republican Party leaders later appointed Carolee Medico Olenginski to run after Griffith pulled out of the race in connection with wiretapping charges against him.