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Spokane

Finance experience an issue in county treasurer race

Tue., July 15, 2014

Current Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase learned one lesson in defeating his predecessor, Skip Chilberg, in the 2010 election.

“For sure, I’m campaigning. I’m raising money,” said Chase, the 60-year-old self-described constitutionalist who’s facing a primary challenge from two Spokane accountants, Mary Kuney and Amy Biviano.

Chase, at the time a political rookie, won the 2010 election largely because Chilberg resisted campaigning, relying on his three previous terms as treasurer to keep his job, according to post-election analyses.

Chase got his name on the 2010 ballot through a write-in campaign for the primary, then spent about $7,000 to defeat Chilberg by about 1,200 votes. His victory, Chase said, partly resulted from support he received from area tea party members.

This time around, Chase has already raised $12,000 in a race where his challengers say he’s not qualified to retain the job, which pays $88,350 per year.

Kuney, who’s 49, and Biviano, 39, claim their training and work experience as professional accountants gives them an edge in managing the financial affairs of county government.

Biviano has a master’s degree in business administration from Gonzaga University. Kuney has an accounting degree from Gonzaga. Both are CPAs. Chase has a degree in operations management from Eastern Washington University.

Chase said he’s fulfilled his commitment to running a responsive and financially well-managed department, which has 24 employees.

“My overarching goal has been to increase services provided to our customers without adding staff,” he said. He also said he helped many county residents by playing a key role in passing a state law that allows for partial tax payments, replacing the previous system that allowed payment only for full amounts owed.

In addition to tracking all revenues coming into the county, the treasurer’s office also invests money that isn’t needed for immediate expenditures. That investment pool for Spokane County is roughly $800 million.

Based on informal surveys, Chase said Spokane’s investment performance has been the second-best among Washington’s 39 counties, thanks to investment guidance by department employee Ross Baglien.

Chase and Kuney are both listed on the ballot as Republicans, while Biviano is a Democrat. The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the November general election.

Kuney has led the trio in total funds raised so far, with $34,000. Biviano so far has raised around $15,000.

Neither Kuney nor Chase has made a direct appeal for a party endorsement because the county Republican Party board would have to unanimously agree on one candidate. The county board has 17 Republicans, and, Chase said, “I’ve been told that neither one of us would ever get the unanimous endorsement.”

He also said he believes he’s facing a challenge from a fellow Republican because County Commissioner Al French wants to see him defeated. French said an appearance by Chase at a February rally hosted by people with the group Spokane Moves to Amend the Constitution “tipped me over” into taking sides against the county treasurer.

“That was an event for Democrats primarily and organized by my opponent,” French said.

The rally called for changes in laws that give corporations the right to unlimited campaign spending.

Chase defended his rally appearance, saying he still believes federal spending laws should be changed.

Kuney said French encouraged her to run but that she was already disposed to seek the job after getting endorsements from other associates and friends.

After working within Washington’s auditor’s office from 1993 to 2004, Kuney primarily remained home raising two children while her husband, Max Kuney, took on responsibilities in a family-owned construction firm.

“I feel comfortable managing people and managing a budget,” she said. “I’m running because I can provide the qualifications and experience” for the job, she said.

Biviano, whose only previous run for office was a 2012 defeat in the state representative’s race won by Matt Shea, has worked for the past five years as a CPA for small businesses and area nonprofits.

Like Kuney, she said she believes the county treasurer’s office needs a financial professional in charge.

“Rob is a nice guy who empowers his staff,” Biviano said. “But we can do better. Someone with more financial expertise can do a better job of overseeing the county’s investment pool and raise the bar higher.”

She’s a fiscal conservative, Biviano added, who decided to run because a well-managed treasurer’s office can provide long-term economic benefits for county residents.



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