On Jan. 7, Mary Bedard will take over as the leader of the Auditor-Controller-County Clerk's office, following the retirement of Ann Barnett. Bedard, who started working for Kern County in 1981, was appointed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors and is expected to fill Barnett's remaining term. More recently, she was the chief of the special accounting division in the Auditor-Controller-County Clerk's office, which processes payroll for more than 9,000 county employees, and reviews and approves more than 100,000 expenditures a year by the county and various districts.
The native New Yorker, who has lived throughout the world and served in the Peace Corps, has called Bakersfield home for decades and raised her three boys here.
Bedard shared with Bakersfield Life a little more about her new job and her personal life.
What do you hope to bring to your new position?
In my career with the county, I have worked at various county departments, first as an accountant and later as a business manager, before moving to the Auditor-Controller's office. So I believe I can bring an understanding of the issues and problems that are faced by the departments, and we can work together on resolving them.
How will your role change from your current job in the special accounting division to your new job?
Currently, I oversee the county's payroll and accounts payable sections, as well as the auditor-controller's responsibilities regarding property taxes. As the Auditor-Controller-County Clerk, I will also be responsible for the county's financial reporting, internal auditing and the county clerk/elections functions.
Do you expect any changes will be made while you're serving the rest of Barnett's term?
Right now, I expect the focus over the next two years will be continuing the implementation of the time, reporting and account costing system (TRACS) that Ann began.
Your office garnered national media attention several years ago when Barnett announced the office would stop conducting marriage ceremonies following the state Supreme Court's legalization of gay marriage (voters later blocked gay marraige by passing Proposition 8). What's your stance?
Given the budget situation of the past few years, we no longer have the staff to handle weddings. We have had to focus on our core mission throughout the office. Issuing marriage licenses is a required part of our mission, but conducting wedding ceremonies is not. Besides, the rooms that were used for weddings have been shifted to other uses.
In addition, county clerk and elections share a lobby and office area, and now with early voting going on for several weeks before each election, we need to have space available to function as a polling place. At this point, it would take some major remodeling of the office to accommodate both the need for space and security on the elections side and the openness and accessibility that would be required for weddings. We do make available to couples who get a marriage license a list of people who are able to perform weddings, and I am not aware of anyone having difficulty finding someone to perform a wedding ceremony.
At this point, we need to devote our limited resources to the functions we are required to perform. For county clerk, that means issuing marriage licenses but not performing wedding ceremonies.
Please tell us about this new software and system to automate county payroll and financial work. How is this going to make life easier?
In the past, the record keeping for payroll has been very decentralized. Although some departments have been using a basic electronic timekeeping system for several years, many continue to use paper timecards. The information then has to be entered by the departmental payroll clerks into the county's mainframe payroll system. In addition, many departments have other systems that they use in order to be able to report data to federal or state agencies, or to meet various grant requirements. In many cases, these systems do not interact with the county's system. This results in employees having to enter the same information multiple times into the different systems. Also, some of the departments' systems are 15 or 20 years old. With the new TRACS system, our programmers have worked with the individual departments to try to make our system flexible enough to meet their reporting needs, so they may not need their separate systems. Where that is not possible, the departments should be able to upload the data from one system to the other, eliminating the need for duplicate entries. In addition to providing greater efficiencies for each department, the new system will provide more timely information and greater reporting capabilities for decision-making by the departments and the Board of Supervisors.
What do you like to do when you're not working and serving Kern County?
For quite a few years, it has seemed like I've spent my spare time chauffeuring my three sons around to their various activities. But my oldest graduated from Cal State Bakersfield last spring, another is a senior at UCLA, and the youngest is a freshman at Loyola Marymount. So I am looking forward to the empty nest stage and having time to try all sorts of new things. But at this point I don't know what those are going to be.
What's your New Year's resolution?
To exercise more. Isn't it everyone's?
Tell us about your time in the Peace Corps.
I was assigned to the Western Samoa Treasury department, where I set up accounting systems and trained their staff. I also got the chance to teach an accounting class for the Western Samoa Society of Accountants, which I really enjoyed. During my Peace Corps training, I lived with a family in a small Samoan village while learning the language and customs. Once I began working, I lived in the capital of Apia. But I enjoyed going back to the village and visiting with my Samoan family. I also enjoyed traveling to some of the smaller islands in Samoa. It was while I was in the Peace Corps that I met my husband, another Peace Corps volunteer. He has a degree in entomology and was working on mosquito eradication. We got engaged while in the Peace Corps.
You've lived in Kern County and in other parts of the world. Why settle in Bakersfield/Kern County?
After we returned from the Peace Corps, my husband was offered a job with an alfalfa seed company in Bakersfield. We originally planned to stay only a few years, but after moving here we decided we really liked it. I'm originally from upstate New York, and after two years in Samoa, I wasn't looking forward to going back to the snowy winters. I don't even mind Bakersfield's summers. My husband and I enjoy being able to get to the coast in a few hours, and Bakersfield has been a great place to raise our family.