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Wildomar Mayor Ben Benoit — a son of the late state lawmaker and Riverside County supervisor John Benoit — is seeking to become Riverside County’s next auditor-controller in an election later this year, with the backing of all five of the county’s elected supervisors.
Benoit, who announced his candidacy Wednesday, has served on the Wildomar City Council since 2010, including his current term as mayor by appointment. The Wildomar council appoints a mayor and mayor pro tem each December.
Benoit said he's seeking the position, which is responsible for conducting audits and keeping tabs on the county's roughly $7 billion budget, in an effort “to restore accountability and transparency in the office of Auditor-Controller.”
“We need to end the culture of waste and abuse that plagues the Auditor-Controller’s office and institute reforms to ensure taxpayer dollars are spent wisely,” Benoit said.
Specifically, Benoit alleged Riverside County auditor-controller Paul Angulo has cost taxpayers “over $435,000 in legal fees to settle retaliation and workplace harassment claims against him,” adding he “also wastes tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on lavish trips all over the country.”
The thousands in legal fees referred to county funds used to settle lawsuits from former county employees accusing Angulo of workplace retaliation, according to a Riverside Press-Enterprise article from February 2019.
“Protecting Riverside County’s quality of life and advocating for taxpayers will be my main priorities as Auditor-Controller,” Benoit said.
Benoit has spent considerable time on regional boards and committees, serving as the representative for Riverside County on the South Coast Air Quality Management District, as well as auditor for the Inland Empire Taxpayers Association and vice president of public affairs for the California Apartment Association.
Angulo, who was first elected in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014 and 2018, confirmed to The Desert Sun that he will seek a fourth term in office this year, stating "someone has to watch the taxpayer’s back and not just pay lip service to it."
Regarding Benoit's criticism of his "lavish trips," Angulo responded by stating he "make(s) no apology" for the professional training he's received during his tenure as auditor-controller.
"There isn't a training venue locally that provides advanced financial and government operations training — although I wish there were so I would not need to travel and leave my family," Angulo said. "The training budget is Board approved and it is of strategic importance."
Regarding the lawsuit settlement, Angulo responded: "I have no idea what my opponent is talking about, and neither does he." He also noted a five-year analysis of the county's legal settlements that found those costs exceeding $100 million.
"This is what I am fighting against — the county's habit of paying off frivolous claims without so much as putting up a defense to protect taxpayer interests," Angulo said.
With the election less than five months away, Angulo is poised to face a major test from Benoit, who made his announcement with endorsements from all five county supervisors — a rarity for someone challenging an incumbent.
“I strongly endorse Mayor Ben Benoit for Auditor-Controller,” Fourth District Supervisor V. Manuel Perez said in a statement. “I’ve worked with Ben on regional issues, and he is a consensus builder who cares about the people of Riverside County. He understands the challenges we face and I’m confident he will bring compassion, integrity, and transparency to the office of Auditor-Controller.”
First District Supervisor Kevin Jeffries also lauded Benoit in a statement, calling him “an effective leader with a proven track record of delivering results for his constituents.”
“I proudly endorse Ben Benoit for Auditor-Controller because he is a local Mayor and businessman who will be a strong advocate for taxpayers in Riverside County,” Jeffries said.
Benoit also had the endorsement of three former Riverside County supervisors: John Tavaglione, Marion Ashley and Tom Mullen.
John Benoit, Ben's father, was an influential figure in Riverside County politics, with a decades-long career that began with a stint as a California highway patrol commander and culminated in his role as the county board chair. He died in December 2016, and more than 1,000 people attended his funeral in La Quinta.
Two current supervisors — Jeffries and Third District Supervisor Chuck Washington — served for a period alongside the late Benoit, who was then succeeded by Perez.
Angulo alluded to the internal dynamics in his statement to The Desert Sun, stating "it’s going to take spine to tackle this mess that I identified, not someone in the pocket of the Board."
"The people of Riverside County will have to decide if they want to hire an experienced CPA with a proven track record who speaks truth to power, or hire a trainee," Angulo said.
Angulo will face at least one other challenger in the race, as peace officer and small business owner Chris Raahauge also plans to run against the third-term incumbent.
The auditor-controller is a nonpartisan position, established to provide accounting, audits and property tax administration for Riverside County, which has the fourth-largest population of any county in California. The office oversees the county’s payroll for more than 20,000 employees and an annual budget of nearly $7 billion.
The primary election will take place on June 7, with the top two finishers moving onto the November general election if no candidate receives a majority of the vote.
Tom Coulter covers politics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tomcoulter_.
This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: Ben Benoit announces run for Riverside County auditor-controller position