Meet the candidate: Democrat Brigid Kelly for Hamilton County Auditor
Two candidates are on the ballot this fall to be the next Hamilton County Auditor: Republican Tom Brinkman and Democrat Brigid Kelly. Both are representatives in the Ohio State Legislature.
Kelly sat down with WVXU Local Government Reporter Becca Costello to talk about her goals if elected. You can listen to the full conversation by clicking the purple play button above, or read a transcript below.
This interview has been slightly edited for grammar and clarity.
First talk a little bit about your professional and political credentials. Why do you think you're the best person to fill this role?
I'm so excited to be running for Hamilton County Auditor because the auditor should really be the consumer watchdog for people in Hamilton County, and that's how I've spent my entire career. I'm a native of the area, I grew up in Norwood, went to school at Xavier and at UC. So you know, the Crosstown Shootout tugs at my heartstrings on both sides. And then I went to work for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and have spent six years serving in the state legislature. So my whole career has been spent working in service to working families. And the work that we've done in the legislature has really been focused on that — on transparency, on accountability and on helping people to have a better life. And I think that's exactly the work that we should be doing in the auditor's office, is looking at all the ways that we can help people to have a better life. Because the auditor's office touches people every single day, sometimes in ways that they don't even know. We're the county's chief fiscal officer — we do property appraisals, we're in charge of weights and measures — and so if any of those things are going awry, it certainly has an impact on you and on your family. And I think it's really an opportunity to show how government can work well and serve people.
This particular office is one that I think a lot of people don't understand very well, because there's so many different aspects to it. You mentioned a couple of those. What are some other things that are part of this office that people might not even realize?
The auditor has a wide variety of responsibilities. So one of the things actually that people might not know is Hamilton County is one of actually the first counties to have a property website. So our current county auditor, Dusty Rhodes, was really one of the first people to introduce that both in the state of Ohio and across the country. And so that's a really important resource for people for public information. I know that there are a lot of super users and a lot of casual users. So that's something that's really important. (County auditor also handles) The property appraisal process, where voters will pass levies and so we need to assess the properties and figure out what those levies need to bring in; weights and measures, so when you go to the gas pump or the grocery store, we make sure your gallon is a gallon or your pound is a pound. The auditor's office is also in charge of dog licensing. So it really is a vast array of issues and responsibilities. And those are actually spelled out in state statute.
Looking at your campaign messaging, your website lists four topics under issues. And those are fighting for consumers, prioritizing transparency, modernizing the office, and keeping people in their homes. Talk about what are some concrete actions to accomplish those. Not just why those are important to you, but how will you actually get that done?
One of the issues that we've been focused on at the Statehouse is on transparency and greater transparency. So one, making sure that website functions really well for people in our community so that they are easily able to access the information that they want, so people know where abatements are. So for example, in Franklin County, their Auditor's Office has a website where you can see where abatements are, how much they are — I think that's just a really important piece of information for the public to have because again, it can impact the tax bill for yourself and for your family. One of the things we've been working really hard on in our office in the state legislature is to be accessible to people and to be responsive to people. And that's to everyone in our community. And I think that's a really important role for the auditor's office to play as well. Because oftentimes, as elected public servants, if people are coming to you, it's not because things are going well. It's because they have a challenge or a concern. And so we need to be responsive to that. They need to be addressed with the dignity and respect that they deserve. And we're really lucky because the auditor's office has a great professional experienced staff with a ton of institutional knowledge. And so that sort of customer service is something that I think people should certainly expect for us to continue. Our current County Auditor Dusty Rhodes has been in office for 32 years and that kind of a career is really remarkable in any kind of public service and he was really a trailblazer when he came in. And so we'd like to build on some of the things that he's done in his office and continue to level up the Hamilton County Auditor's Office to move into the future.
And then in terms of keeping people in their homes, you know, the auditors duties are spelled out in state statute; we're a largely administrative office. But that doesn't mean that we can't convene partners. It doesn't mean we can't build coalitions. It doesn't mean that we can't help to find resources for people. So I think it's really figuring out what are the specific ways that we can or can't influence or change policy because some of the policies in the auditor's office have to be changed by the state legislature, [it] can't just happen by waving a magic wand in the auditor's office because we don't have that authority. But I think I have a great track record of bringing people together and working in diverse coalitions at the Statehouse. And I think that's something that the voters can also know will continue if I'm elected Hamilton County auditor this fall.
I did have the chance to talk to your opponent, Tom Brinkman. One of his goals he has talked about is changing the appraisal system so that those are done in person again, as opposed to the trend of doing them online using Zillow or other online resources. What are your thoughts on how the appraisal system currently works and how it could be improved or any changes you might suggest?
Well, the appraisal process is set out again in state statute, but I think that we should be using all of the tools that are available to us. And there are a lot of really advanced technological tools that are available. So in person is great and necessary in some cases. But I don't think that we should dismiss the idea of some of these advanced technologies that are available to us so we can do things more efficiently, more quickly, and then really save our expertise for following up. And I think another important piece of this is making sure that the community knows about the appraisal process, how it works, what they can expect. And so something that I'm really interested in is really increasing community outreach, and meeting people where they are — going to community council meetings, neighborhood groups and not saying, 'Hey, you got to come to us,' but us coming to you and saying, 'Hey, this is a big deal. And this is what you can expect. And this is how it's going to impact your family.' But you know, I think in person is great, but I think there are a lot of other tools that are available, and that we should be taking advantage of all of them, especially if they can increase efficiency and accuracy. Because both of those things are good for consumers.
What else do you want the voters of Hamilton County to know about your campaign and what you would hope to accomplish in office?
I'm really excited to be running for Hamilton County auditor, because I think public service is a chance where people have to do the most good for the greatest number of people. And I think especially in a role like this, that touches people every day. So if your property taxes are being computed incorrectly, if you're a county employee whose paycheck isn't working properly, if you're going to the grocery store, and your pound of ground beef isn't actually a pound, that impacts you, it impacts your family, it impacts your pocketbook. And so we really want to show people how government can work well for them and serve them well. And we really, frankly, want to be on the cutting edge. You know, we want to be a leader in terms of county auditor offices in the state and make sure that people have the information that's available to them, that they feel comfortable calling us if they have questions, and to really see us out as part of the community. And again, I think that Dusty [Rhodes] has had a great career, because again, three decades in elected office is something that's really remarkable, particularly at this point in time. And he has a professional, talented, skilled staff with a lot of institutional knowledge that I think we have a great opportunity to build on so we can really continue to lead and continue to be that consumer watchdog that Hamilton County families deserve.