Two candidates are vying to fill City Auditor Hugh Dorrian's big, independent shoes

There are many reasons for Columbus' success. Among the less appreciated is the independence of the city auditor's office.

The drafters of the 1914 Columbus City Charter wanted to ensure the city attorney and city auditor were independently elected — answerable to the electorate, not the mayor or City Council. The charter makes the auditor the chief accountant, deciding how financial records will be kept and judging the propriety of each financial transaction before it occurs.

Such independence is not the norm for Ohio's cities. It is a major reason Columbus has not experienced financial crises or scandals across the decades.

The charter writers had “tremendous foresight,” observed City Auditor Hugh J. Dorrian, who has held the office since 1969. The charter assures “a very strong separation of powers. Over the years I've come to recognize it as a rather unique role,” he said.

After 48 years in office, Dorrian will retire at the end of this year. In local government circles, his legendary service is widely appreciated. Less understood is the fact that, since World War II, Columbus has had only three city auditors. Dorrian's predecessors were John H. Price (1956-1969) and R.P. Barthalow (1944-1955).

The office has been remarkable not only for its independence but also for the lengthy tenures of occupants who understood that independence. All of this puts a spotlight on the two candidates to become Dorrian's successor: Democrat Megan Kilgore and Republican Robert J. Mealy.

Kilgore, 34, has the advantage of having worked for Dorrian for 11 years (2004-2015) as an assistant city auditor. She managed the city's debt portfolio, prepared reports for bond-rating agencies and analyzed major economic development proposals.

Over the last two years, she has worked at H.J. Umbaugh & Associates, advising cities and other governmental jurisdictions on debt management and financial planning. Dorrian has endorsed Kilgore and is serving as her campaign chairman.

“His confidence in me means the world to me,” Kilgore said. “But I have to earn this. There would be no greater honor than to be his successor in this office.”

Kilgore said she understands the historical independence of the office, and she has ideas on how to expand on the charter's command to make periodic financial reports to the public.

“In our digital age, I believe there's a lot of potential to create easy-to-use, online portals for educating the public,” Kilgore said.

Mealy, 60, has the advantage of being a true outsider. No Republican has held elective office at City Hall since 2002.

Mealy spent more than two decades in sales and marketing for IBM. He has created and sold word-processing and gift-basket companies, and considers himself a problem solver and team builder.

“If you put me into something, I will figure it out,” he said. “I'm new to politics. I'm just a career businessman who decided it's time to get involved. This is another thing I can do.”

Mealy credits Dorrian for having done “a fantastic job. I'm not expecting to find a lot of things wrong.” However, he believes the time is right for change.

Curtin, a former Dispatch reporter and editor, recently finished a four-year tenure in the Ohio House of Representatives.