Martha O. Haynie served as Comptroller for Orange County from 1988 until her retirement on January 2, 2017. Through her leadership, tens of millions of dollars over the years have been added to the Tourist Development Tax collections for Orange County. In 2011, under her guidance, Orange County won an estimated $9 million settlement with Expedia travel service, the largest collection a local government has received from an online company. Ms. Haynie currently serves on the Board of Orlando Philharmonic.
My name is Martha Ogden Haynie. I often use the “O” in my signature so some people think it’s O’Haynie, but it’s Martha Haynie and I was born in Chattanooga, TN. My family moved from Chattanooga when I was six weeks old, so I have no memory of Chattanooga at all. Moved to Memphis, TN. But, apparently my father changed jobs a lot. He was not in the military, but we moved always in the south. So we moved from Memphis to Montgomery. Lived in Montgomery for a few years and then we moved to Birmingham and I lived in a little neighborhood called Rocky Ridge outside of Birmingham actually. And then we moved to Huntsville and that’s where I went to junior high and high school. So pretty much I grew up in Alabama, but my parents were from Michigan so I didn’t have quite the accent that a lot of my Alabama school friends had. But apparently I do have some bit of a southern accent.
LISTEN Part I (13:31)
And what did your parents do for a living?
My mother was a homemaker and my father was in building and mortgage banking. He worked as an estimator, generally jobs that had to do with the construction industry.
Did you go to college in Alabama?
No. My parents moved the summer after I graduated from high school and I started college at the University of Alabama, Huntsville Campus. And I did that for one quarter and I think then I realized I wasn’t quite ready for the living arrangement I had at the time. So my family had moved to Pensacola. So I moved down to Pensacola and I had to wait a year actually to get my Florida residency because I couldn’t afford out of state tuition. And then went to Pensacola Junior College and the University of West Florida, both of them in Pensacola.
Did you like it?
Well, I worked all the time when I was in college. So I didn’t have a lot of what might be thought of as a typical college life experience. I was a commuter student. I never lived on campus or any of those kinds of things. I liked it. I had never considered not going to college because I didn’t believe I was ready to be out in the real world, actually. I did not know what I wanted to be when I grew up and I somehow ended up, when I was at west Florida, as an accounting major which was sort of a surprise for me. But the professor who was head of the accounting department gave a really great commercial, a pitch. And he sort of convinced you that if you had an accounting degree you could do anything; that it was a great basis for going in a lot of directions and I thought that sounded practical. I got married while I was in college and it’s embarrassing to admit this, but I am old enough that I thought I probably needed to have something to fall back on if I ever needed to work full time. With the joke being that I have worked full time my entire life. Straight out of college and for my whole adult life since then. I got an accounting degree because I thought it was practical.
Recruited by Walt Disney Company
And so, in my senior year, Walt Disney came on campus to recruit, and so did the major CPA firms. And I had a couple of job offers from some of the national CPA firms and a job offer from Walt Disney World. And I thought it sounded like a lot more fun to come to work for Disney World so that’s what we did when I graduated. My husband and I decided that whoever had the most interesting job offer in a place big enough that the other one could possibly get a job too. So I won and we moved down here to Orlando right after I graduated.
What was it like here?
There were a lot more orange groves. We actually looked on a map and decided that Winter Garden looked like a close place to live if I was going to work at Disney. And so, we got an apartment in Winter Garden and I drove to work through orange groves. And, at the time, Winter Garden was distinctly different than Orlando. If you drove in on 50 there were lots of orange groves there, too. So it was different. This was in 1973 and Disney was pretty young at the time. There were a lot of trailers and, in fact, my office was in a trailer. But, it was exciting. It was fresh, and I was young enough, or silly enough, or whatever that I thought being able to go up to the theme park at lunch and ride a few rides was just a great way to spend my working life, you know. After a few years I felt somewhat differently, but at the beginning it was fun…. I was young and married and had a job and we made friends. And somebody invited me to a young Republican meeting which was part of how my life then turned. And I thought that would be a good way to find out more about the community and what was going on. So that’s actually what started me on the sort of political path that I turned to eventually.
Did you go straight from Disney to Orange County Comptroller?
Oh, no. You know, I can look back and I can form my career path to having been a plan, but it wasn’t a plan at all. I worked at Disney for about six years and at the time in order to get certified as a public accountant and get my CPA license, I had to have at least a year of public accounting experience. So when I finally got around to passing the CPA exam I decided that I needed to get a job in public accounting. So I went to work then with one of the national CPA firms which at the time was Ernst and Whinny. I worked there for three years; did not like it. And during that same time my husband had started a small business practice with a colleague of his. He’d been going to the University of Central Florida getting his Master’s Degree. So we had a small business practice and after three years we decided that I would go in and work with him in that practice…. We had a small CPA firm, Haney & Haney. Brilliantly named. And during the two to three years that I worked there, we also started our family. So our first son was born during the tax season which seemed like not a very good plan. And so, we decided that neither one of us were really crazy about it and we sold the practice. My husband went to work for one of our clients and I went to work for the guy who had bought the practice. So I stayed in public accounting. And about a year and a half later, I was pregnant again during tax season… I managed to hold off with my second son until May, but I was hospitalized for a while during the pregnancy so I decided that tax work wasn’t really my thing either.
Accountant for Florida Symphony Orchestra
So after having done a corporate job with Walt Disney World and a national CPA firm, and having my own small practice, and then going to work for a slightly larger CPA practice – my husband saw an ad in the paper for a cultural organization looking for an accountant. Then I ended up going to work for the Florida Symphony Orchestra…. So I had worked for a large corporation, and a national CPA firm, and I had my own practice, and then I had worked for a struggling nonprofit. So I sort of had covered all the bases there. And it was after three years at the Florida Symphony Orchestra, I was beginning to feel kind of burned out on that job. It was a constant struggle for cash and we had a very small staff. And, a friend of mine, someone that I knew through the woman’s political caucus, took me out to lunch and suggested that I run for the Office of County Comptroller. So that’s how that happened.
Corporate Accountant in the Hospitality Industry
I had a background in corporate accounting, fortunately in the hospitality industry. So I had a lot of connections, understood the hospitality industry. I had an auditing background. I had the experience of having had my own business, so I understood trying to meet a payroll. So as I said, I could look back and say, see I had covered all the bases. I was a great generalist. I had done everything except government, so then I got a job in government.
LISTEN Part II (13:09)
What was it like running for office because that would have been your first time, right?
It was my first. Until the boys were born I had been active in politics as a hobby. I had gotten involved in the Young Republicans, ended up being an officer there for a while. Had gotten involved in the Republican Executive Committee which is the county organization for the party and had also gotten involved in the Women’s Political Caucus which is a multi-partisan organization. Actually, I’d gone to a couple of the state conventions which were pretty much about partying. But also became aware that the Young Republicans at the time were not in support of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment which was very upsetting for me and there’s lots of stories there. But I came home and I read in the paper that the woman’s political caucus, the Florida one, had had its conference in Orlando the same weekend and I thought to myself I was at the wrong conference. And so, I was actually walking down Park Avenue one Saturday morning- back when I got my hair cut there, but I didn’t do the blow-dry because that costs extra you know – and I’m walking down Park Avenue with wet hair and I saw a hand lettered sign that said “ERA” and there was an arrow pointing into an office and I thought, what the heck. And that’s how I met women who were active in the women’s political caucus.
Young Republicans and the Women’s Political Caucus
And so, I became more involved in that organization and through both the Young Republicans and the Women’s Political Caucus, I had worked on other people’s campaigns and learned some about campaigning. It had never crossed my mind that I would be a candidate, that was not how I saw myself. So when a friend came and suggested that I run for this office, after I went through the, “You’re kidding, right?” I started talking to a lot of my friends and I was surprised actually that a lot of other people thought I was going to run for office some day. I didn’t think so, but a lot of people apparently thought so. And after I came up with every excuse I could possibly think of as to why it was a bad idea, some of them, especially some of the older women who I considered my mentors, said, “Oh, just do it.” So I ran for office. I liked the part about getting out and meeting people. In 1988, I was the challenger. I was running against the incumbent and I did on a speech where I criticized him and that made me so uncomfortable that I never gave that speech again. I wasn’t good at that.
“Hi, I’m a CPA and I’d like to be your comptroller.”
But, the job of comptroller is way down the ballot. And that year the sheriff’s office was opened so there were dozens of people running for sheriff which is a lot sexier than running for county comptroller. So we would often at candidate forums have three minutes to speak. And so, I would say my name and that I was the candidate for comptroller and that I was a certified public accountant. That pretty much was my campaign speech. Because as it happened my opponent wasn’t a CPA and he also had never really had to run for the office. He’d been appointed to fill a term and he had never had a general election since then. So even though he’d been in office for eight years, campaigning was not his strong suit at all. And so, I got out and smiled and said, “Hi, I’m a CPA and I’d like to be your comptroller.” And my most often asked question was, “What’s the comptroller do?” And the second question was usually, “Why would you want to do that?” So, I guess, I made it to sound really boring. And while I didn’t feel lucky at the time, I actually had a Republican primary so I got practice in running. And we worked really hard and really focused on likely voters and raised a minuscule amount of money and [I] won by the skin of my teeth.
Republican Mail-out to Absentee Voters
Back in 1988, very few people voted absentee, whereas today with vote by mail and everything, I don’t know what the percentages are, but a lot of people do. But back in 1988 that was a fairly easy group to target. And so we talked other Republican candidates into going in with us to put together like the Republican slate, because I couldn’t afford to mail it just on my own. And so, we mailed that to all the absentees. I was at the end of the regular vote count. Tuesday night I was, I don’t remember the numbers, I was several voters ahead and it was pretty darn close. And the absentees weren’t even finished counting until the next day… and I was several thousand votes ahead after the absentees were counted. So I didn’t actually know that I had won until Wednesday night.
“Hi, my name is Martha Haynie and I’m running for Orange County Office of Comptroller and I’d appreciate your support.”
I liked the part about campaigning, about just getting out and talking to people. And it was easy to meet strangers because it was, “Hi, my name is Martha Haynie and I’m running for Orange County Office of Comptroller and I’d appreciate your support.” Then that was kind of all I had to say. So that’s what campaigning was like. And I was working the whole time. So I campaigned at breakfast, lunch, and after work while my best friend said, “My contribution to the campaign is that I’ll take care of the kids.” So I had a three year old and a five year old at the time and my dearest friend watched the babies and I went out and campaigned nights and weekends. And then the first time out I won the primary and then I won the general.
And then you never had to campaign again, right?
Well, no, that’s a misconception. I had to campaign. But I never had an opponent who stuck it out all the way to getting on the ballot. So I was never on the ballot again after 1988. At the end of my first term nobody ran against me which I was astonished about…. In ’96 a guy ran against me for a year and a half and he was also a CPA and had a common name. So that one was really pretty scary to me and qualifying at the time was like the second or third week in July from noon on Monday to noon on Friday and he dropped out of the race at 11:30 Friday. And I had a garage full of signs ready to go out, and at that point I really wanted to be on the ballot with him because I really wanted to defeat him. But when your opponent drops out and there’s no other candidate it’s just over. It just stops…. But, so I had been on the ballot twice. In 1988 I was on the Republican ballot, and I was on the General Election ballot. And my name has not been on the ballot since then. But a lot of people tell me they have voted for me every time and I say, “Thank you” because I’m sure in their heart they voted for me.
“You know, the system works better if people have choices…”
At the end of my first term it looked like nobody was going to run against me. I actually said, and I believe this, I said, “You know, the system works better if people have choices and if there are qualified candidates, you know, running for offices. And a lot of my friends would go, “Shh, don’t say that.” And I go, you know, I believe this…. But after a while I found that I think that I actually preferred running unopposed. You know, it was, I liked to think that it meant that people thought I was doing a good enough job to let me stay in it. Because it’s a scary way to keep a job. You know, the first time out and it’s not a scary way to get a job, but it’s a scary way to keep a job because you never know what little something is going to catch the electorate’s attention and they’re going to think they know this person because his name is the same as somebody else. I actually, in one of my last elections, a woman pulled papers to run against me. I have no idea where she came from. I never met her. But her last name was the same as a famous English playwright, let me put it like that. So she had this incredible name for running for office. And I thought that would really stink, you know, to be defeated by a dead English playwright. It’s a scary way to get a job.
LISTEN Part III (10:28)
Orange County has the only elected Comptroller in the state of Florida, right?
The only one elected as a unique office. In most of the other 67 counties it’s part of the Clerk of the Court. So it’s still an elected position, but it’s a piece of what the Clerk of the Court does. It’s not a stand alone office if you will.
The authority comes from the state constitution, right, so would you tell us why we have that separate and why that’s important?
Well, those are two very different answers. The constitution allows for the Office of the Clerk of the Court to be bifurcated and that can be done by a local act. And it’s my understanding that the reason the office was split was that there were two people that wanted to run for Clerk of Court and they sort of made a deal. And they got the legislature to put through a special act and split the office. So it was originally done for political reasons. I do think that as Orange County became such a large and complex and wealthy urban county, that it made tremendously good sense to have the office split. Because the Office of the Clerk of the Court is a big job. The Office of County Comptroller is a big job. And I just think in a county the size of Orange County it made a lot of sense for me to be able to concentrate on the county side of the job. And let the Clerk have to deal with all those dozens of judges and the hundreds of responsibilities that the Clerk has.
Clerk and Comptroller
I’m very proud of the fact that over time, quite a number of my colleagues in other counties who began to realize the importance of the Comptroller’s side of the function actually changed their titles to Clerk and Comptroller. So they put Comptroller in their formal title. And, Jane, from another standpoint, as I’ve gone occasionally to local auditor conferences or other governmental or political conferences around the country, even though it’s been split from the Clerk of the Court in a county the size of Orange, the four primary functions of the comptroller in a lot of places that’s a single function. And there are a lot of counties, local jurisdictions, that there’s an elected auditor and that’s their job, the elected auditor. In a lot of jurisdictions outside of Florida, the recorder is a separately elected position.
Early on I went to a conference back in the early 90’s of southern women in politics, and I met the woman who was the State Treasurer in Louisiana. And being the treasurer was one of my functions as comptroller, that is being responsible for the investments and the banking activities. And I found out that I actually was responsible for a larger pool of public money than the State Treasurer in Louisiana. Now State Treasurer sounds like a much cooler job than being Orange County Comptroller, but, in fact, my responsibility was broader and larger than hers. So I do think it has served Orange County very, very well to have a person whose focus, and hopefully whose background, could be in the accounting and the auditing side of things and be able to really pay attention and understand that.
Tell us about some of the responsibilities of the Comptroller and the Citizen’s Financial Report..
I’ll be happy to give you an overview. There are actually four primary functions for the Comptroller’s Office. The Comptroller is the Chief Financial Officer for the County, which means that the Comptroller’s responsible for all of the accounting functions and creating the financial report. All of the outside reporting that was done. I was responsible for the banking function. Pays the bills for the Board of County Commissions. Does the payroll for the Board of County Commissioners. As I said, does the investments and is responsible for maintaining the property records, so all the fixed assets and equipment for the county; not keeping track of it, but the inventory and reporting on it. That is the comptroller’s responsibility.
Tax Collecting Role and County Auditor
During the time I was in office, fairly early on, I persuaded the Board of County Commissioners to give me also a tax collecting role. Because while the Tax Collector is a separately elected constitutional officer, our tourist development tax had been collected by the state. And in the early 90’s, I was able to persuade the Board of County Commissioners that we would have more control over it if we collected it locally. And that became a major function of my office. But that was an add-on. In most of the counties that do local collections in Florida, it’s actually the Tax Collector’s Office that collects the resort tax. But in Orange County it’s the Comptroller’s Office. The Comptroller is also the County Auditor which gives that office the responsibility to audit all of the functions under the Board of County Commissioners which is the way it is in most counties.
“In ’96 I persuaded the Charter Review Commissioners that it would be a good idea if I could audit all of the constitutional officers as well as the Board of County Commissioners….”
In ’96 I persuaded the Charter Review Commissioners that it would be a good idea if I could audit all of the constitutional officers as well as the Board of County Commissioners. So in Orange County, the Comptroller has a broader auditing function than the other counties as well. I think the County Recorder is a separate function which makes the office responsible for all the documents, primarily deeds, and mortgages, but other legal documents as well that are part of the official public records of Orange County. And the office is also the Clerk to the Board of County Commissioners. Which means, it is Comptroller staff who is responsible for taking the minutes of the Board of County Commissioners. Which, although it’s a ministerial duty very much, it’s also one of the job responsibilities in which the independence of the office is important because the commissioners can’t say, “That’s not what I meant to say in the meetings.” They can change it in the next public meeting if they want to, but they can’t just come to the Clerk’s office and say, “Let’s change that.” Or, “That’s not the way I voted. I think I voted that way.” We can have a public discussion about that if you want. It’s just a safeguard for the accountability for the public.
Four Primary Functions of the Comptroller’s Office
So, County Recorder, County Auditor, CFO, and Clerk to the Board of County Commissioners. So that’s the big four. Although there are lots of pieces in all those jobs.
LISTEN Part IV (19:04)
We have a copy here of The Citizen’s Annual Financial Report… can you explain a little bit about how this came about and why you started doing this?
Well, governmental accounting is complicated and it is complicated for good reasons. Because it’s set up so you can, with a great deal of patience, trace where money comes from and where it goes. And a lot of the taxes and fees that governments receive are restricted. They can only be used for certain things. And so, they are in separate funds, they are kept separately. And it means that the comprehensive annual financial report for Orange County which is blended then, it’s not only all the activities under the Board of County Commissioners, but it also includes all of the other constitutional officers. It’s about three inches thick. It contains a wealth of information and very, very, very few people are ever going to read it. One of the things that we wanted to do when I took office was to raise the profile of the office. And my real purpose there was for people to feel more confident in what was going on in their local government. And so, one of the ways that we felt this could be accomplished was to make a report that was far, far, far easier to read and understand. It’s a compilation of the county’s financial activities for the year. But you don’t have to have an accounting degree to understand it. We were really proud of being able to distill that three inch thick report into about 20 pages and make it generally understandable.
Independent Chief Financial Officer
Now an accounting professor would be very upset reading this because we did not follow generally accepted governmental accounting standards in this. But we did make it, we felt, legible and understandable. I felt like, if I had a unique office I wanted people to understand why it was important to have an independent Chief Financial Officer. Why it was important to have somebody who was a colleague of the commissioner’s, but not an employee of the commissioner’s. Because it was clear fairly early in my first term that my ability to be able to say what I felt needed to be said without fear of losing my job was critical. And one of the really important, but often low key functions of being the comptroller, the Chief Financial Officer, as I mentioned, audit is a big responsibility and audits tend to get more attention in the press and people are aware of them.
Preaudit Function of the Comptroller
But the preaudit function that the Comptroller staff performs is really critical. Because the way it works is if an expenditure has not been properly budgeted and does not meet what in the opinion of my staff is a valid public purpose and has all of the right signatures and approvals, I have the authority to withhold my signature which means that bill doesn’t get paid. That’s a pretty powerful tool to have and it really works best if the people on the commission side of the county understand it beforehand. Because it’s not fun to get into a confrontation saying, “We’re not going to pay this bill,” especially because it means some vendor has probably provided the service. If the county staff understands ahead of time that this is the way things have to be done if you want this bill to be paid, it works a lot more smoothly. So we developed and expanded the communication so people on the county side can ask, “Can I do this?” “Can we do it this way?” And you know, it’s a lot easier if the answer is going to be “no” if you get that answer early on than at the end of the process. Now, it sometimes happens that vendors or an individual would call up and be very upset with my office because a bill wasn’t being paid and not unusual they would say the comptroller’s office is holding up on that. And then we would explain that the reason the comptroller’s office was holding that bill is because… over time that gets people following the proper procedures a lot better. But it also should give the public a higher level of confidence that the public money is being spent the way it’s supposed to.
I explained to people a lot over the 30 years accountability does not necessarily mean you’re going to like the way the money was spent. But it should mean you know how the money was spent and you know who made the decision to spend it that way. So that those people can be held accountable for how the money was spent. It was outside of my authority to not pay a bill just because I didn’t think it was a good idea. But I could refuse it if, in my opinion, it did not meet the criteria for serving a public purpose. And that came into play a lot. Most often it was, unfortunately what got people’s attention was looking at commissioner’s expense reports, which tend to be small dollars in the scheme of things. However, as an example of where we could say, no, you can’t do that.
Responsible for County Payroll
One of the largest expenses in any organization and that includes county government, is personnel costs. And so, in having responsibility for the payroll function, the preaudit function comes into play there as well. So that we could do our best to ensure that people were being paid the proper amount for the proper jobs…. County payroll like most organizations is actually a lot more complicated than people expect it to be because, you know, we’ve got a 24/7 operation. There are lots of shifts, there are union contracts, there are emergency situations. There are all kinds of things that come up and having a payroll department that is specifically charged with receiving those expenditures before these people get their paychecks is another protection that we could offer to the citizens.
Did you ever have a time when people didn’t get paid on time due to a storm or hurricane?
You know, that’s a nightmare for somebody’s name who’s on a paycheck and actually in 2004 – county payroll is every two weeks – and in 2004 when we knew that there were storms coming, my payroll department actually worked a lot of overtime and got the payrolls ready early. And we ended up doing that three times in 2004. So that people could get their checks and not be stuck having to buy emergency supplies and not having any money. I was really proud of that. Because actually my payroll department decided that’s what they needed to do without my having told them to do it. And that’s an example of the kind of people that we had working here. People that really felt their responsibility very seriously.
And actually way back in 1999 when people were worried about Y2K and the rollover of computer systems at the beginning of the next century, there was a lot of anxiety about our payroll system not working properly. Because actually when I was elected in 1988, some people said, “You know, your biggest challenge is going to be getting the new payroll system implemented.” And then, for the next three terms people said, “You know, your biggest challenge is going to be getting that payroll system implemented.” It was complicated and there were a lot of glitches along the way. And we were working on an old Burroughs computer that we were pretty much holding together with duct tape and bubble gum. But no, there were never any late payrolls while I was in office because people deserve to get paid on time. It’s as simple as that.
“There were over 7,000 employees that we paid…”
It got cleaner when we persuaded the county to require that new employees had to have direct deposit; because that saves a lot of steps and finally got everybody, except I mean there were a few people that got grandfathered in and still wanted their paper checks. But over time, everybody’s on direct deposit and that saves – I mean, then you don’t have to worry about the printer breaking or any other kind of – there are a lot of glitches that can happen. Getting paid on time and correctly and the right people paid is pretty important. And there were over 7,000 employees that we paid, so it was a lot of people to keep happy. And it was a lot of money to be sure it was being spent properly.
You were in charge of investing for the County… there’s a link between investing the County’s money and then also having money available to make payroll, correct?
You had an investment policy, a written policy… did you write that?
My staff did. There are two options for local government. You can either follow precisely what the state mandates as approved investments or you can expand it a little bit and have your own policy. And we wrote our own policy which included a requirement for the comptroller to make an annual report to the Board of County Commissioners about what the investments were and how they were doing. Of course, we did that every month, but publicly only once a year.
The Three Points of our Investment Strategy…
It’s important for people to understand that the county, as all counties are a unit of the state government unlike cities, and as such all county employees are in the state pension, the Florida Retirement System. So Orange County does not have any long term funds to invest. We did not manage the pension fund. So what we call excess funds is all primarily short term money. It’s money that is from bond sales. For example, we might sell millions of dollars worth of bonds to build something, but the building doesn’t get built in one year usually. So the longer term funds still are relatively short term in terms of investing. And the three points of our investing strategy was: First of all the money had to be safe; it had to be liquid; and to the extant we could, we would diversify it so we didn’t have all our eggs in one basket if you will.
“The county’s money is primarily in U.S. Treasuries and bonds…”
After the downturn of the economy in 2007, we actually retracted that investment policy and made it even duller, but safer. And the county’s money is primarily in U.S. Treasuries and bonds. We had for a time had some investments in Triple AAA corporate paper and that sort of stuff, but we even pulled that back after 2007. And we, now have, I think, the state has an investment pool for local governments. And because that was part of a much larger pool of money, the state could have some longer term investments because, again, they also manage the pension fund and that was a highly liquid fund that a lot of governments had, smaller governments especially had all their excess funds in so that you could invest it overnight and not have your money sitting idle.
“I got to make the decision to pull all of our money out of that fund which I was really happy to do.”
In 2007, and I’m going to apologize because some of my dates may be a little off here, I didn’t study up for this, there were some rumors that, that fund was facing some cash difficulties, some investments that had gone bad and I got to make the decision to pull all of our money out of that fund which I was really happy to do. It actually cost us some interest earnings because the state did not make good on some of its interest earnings, but it kept us from losing tens of millions of – not losing it, eventually everybody was made whole for their capital – but that fund was frozen for months, maybe years. And some smaller governments had trouble making payroll because the bank was closed. We were lucky enough and smart enough to make the decision that this is beginning to look shaky, we’re pulling the money out. It was another time when it was very handy that I didn’t have to go through the Board of County Commissioners to get permission to do that. Because that was a decision that was made in a day. And it was like, we’re taking the money out now. And then, anybody at the state level who was unhappy with us for pulling our money out of the state fund, the county mayor could say, “She did it.” It all worked out just fine and I was used to that by then. So that’s how that worked….
LISTEN Part V (19:06)
Who was the first organization that you audited?
Primarily until 1996 everything that we audited were operations under the Board of County Commissioners. But also, we took the position that we could follow the money, so we also audited organizations that received County funding. But undoubtedly, the first big audit that we did was of the County’s purchasing function. And there were a lot of findings, a lot of serious problems that we discovered and, ultimately, the County ended up hiring a new purchasing manager, adopting almost all of our recommendations. And now, the County’s Purchasing department is an award winning organization. And I was very proud of the work we did with that….
The very best kind of audit report…
Ultimately we did a lot better about communicating. I made sure that the communication was being done and for years and years had quarterly meetings with the county chairman and their staff just to make sure that they know what we’re looking at. And if there were significant problems that we’re uncovering, they didn’t have to wait for the report to come out. They could get started on fixing it. Because the very best kind of audit report you want to have in government is one that says these are the problems we found and this is what’s been fixed. And then everybody’s happy and we have improved county government and we’ll go on and do the next thing…. My big lesson in really understanding the difference between internal auditing in the private sector, and internal auditing in the public sector, it was in the newspaper. Although my goal was to make sure that problems were uncovered, having those things in the newspaper makes everybody defensive and it’s embarrassing and requires a much different level of handling, processing, communicating than I had thought through at the time. So I learned a lot with that one. But ultimately, it was great! A lot of things got changed for the better.
And as you said, “That’s good government.”
That’s good government. It’s not that I don’t think things should be in the newspaper, because they need to be in the newspaper and people need to know what’ going on. But, it’s a different conversation and has to be handled more carefully…. This was a situation of a county that had grown quickly. There wasn’t central control over purchasing, that would have been better, and somebody got blamed for it. That’s just another feature of being in government that’s different than being in the private sector. One of the things that still sets my teeth on edge is when people suggest that government should be run like a business. Because you can’t. Government is not a business. It can’t fail. And everything you do in government is public. And believe me, not everything you do in a private corporation is public. I worked in a private corporation long enough to know that, and it just makes a huge difference.
I came to love working in local government…
It means that government has to work more slowly, make sure that everyone has a fair shot at the business. You know, corporations can do business with whoever they want to do business with. Now that has changed in the last several decades…. But, believe me, nongovernmental entities can buy things a lot faster than governments can and there’s a reason for that. And it can be frustrating, it can be slow. The reason is that fairness and accountability and openness. You know, we don’t get to pick our clients. And if somebody asks a question, you have to stop and answer it. You can’t say, “You know, I’m not going to respond to that public records request because we’re really busy.” No, you have to respond to that public records request and it doesn’t matter how busy you are. You can’t say, “No, we’re not going to tell you what everybody makes.” Because, yeah, we are going to tell you what everybody makes… if there is a disaster or hurricane, you don’t get to close down. You not only don’t get to close down, you got to be out on the streets helping people. Government is different. I came to love working in local government because you can make a direct impact on people’s lives. You can help people every day. You can give them a right answer. You can show them how things happen. You can get them to the right place. And, for me, I could create a working environment where people want to come to work. And it was hugely rewarding to me.
And, I think, the citizens feel the same way about you. The Orlando Sentinel nominated you as Central Floridian of the Year.
But I didn’t win. It was important for me too. There’s so much us and them. And I really wanted people to understand that the government is us. I mean it’s not us and them. And while it means that there’s a responsibility in government for people to be open and honest, there’s also a responsibility for citizens to pay attention, to know what’s going on, and to vote! But I won’t get off on that right now….
Do you have time to talk about the Tourist Development Tax… I read this quote that in 2011 the County won an estimated nine million dollar settlement with Expedia Travel Service for back taxes?
Yes, we did that. I did that. I’m happy to talk about that… It was in the early 90’s and we at the time when the state was collecting the tourist development tax, there was a couple of lines on the sales tax form that businesses had to do. And we got no information on the details of that. We just got the money from the state. We didn’t know for sure who was paying for it. We didn’t know how much anybody was paying. We didn’t know if the proper amount was being collected. So the only way we could monitor it all was to try to do month to month and year to year to see if there were many anomalies. And, as I recall, in the – and also the state took a fee which, I think, was 3%. And back when we first started having the resort tax, it wasn’t a very big revenue source in the early days.
Audit Authority and Local Collection
But there came a year and I want to say it was 91 or 92 when we noticed a couple of odd things about it. And that’s when it became really frustrating that we had no audit authority over them. And what I really wanted was audit authority. I wanted to go and make sure people were coming in and paying what they’re supposed to. And the only way to do that is to do local collection which was always an option to do local collection of the tourist development tax. So that was our motivation, my office’s motivation for wanting to get local collection was primarily the audit function. Well, there was some discussion that the tax collector’s office would do the collection and we would do the auditing and the tax collector was going to charge the 3% fee that was allowable under statutes. We decided that we would offer to collect it for what it costs us not for the 3% which saved the county some money. And so, the county voted to not only give me the audit function, but also the collection function. Three percent would have been one heck of a fine way to fund the comptroller’s office, but all the excess would have gone back to the county anyway and so, we’re glad ultimately that we made that decision.
LISTEN Part VI (12:36)
Tip: There was this business model out there and they weren’t collecting and remitting Resort Tax…
It was in the late 90’s you know the Internet begins to explode and people are doing things online. And we actually got an anonymous tip somewhere and it was a Power Point presentation on online hotel bookings. And at the time, most hotels weren’t doing it themselves, and we got this tip that there was this business model out there and they weren’t collecting and remitting resort tax. And we went, really? That became a ten year legal battle with Expedia and Orbitz and it was thousands of hours on my auditor’s time. And it was at some time, it was a fight of the hotel industry. Because the hotel industry was afraid they were going to lose these bookings. It became a fight with the state legislature because the online industry started telling the state legislature that it was a new tax.
Ten Year Legal Battle with Expedia and Orbitz
It wasn’t a new tax, it was an application of an existing tax. And it was a huge battle with the industry, the Expedias, the Orbitz, and all those companies. And it was complicated because unlike every other thing we did in my office, the amount of money that a hotel collects or remits is proprietary. It’s against the law to disclose what an individual property collects and remits. So I couldn’t tell you what Walt Disney World collects and remits in resort tax because that’s proprietary information. I couldn’t tell the City of Orlando what hotel located within the city’s limits collected and remitted in resort tax. It’s against the law. And that was part of the challenge that we faced is trying to figure out how much money we weren’t getting. Over that 10 year period a lot of the hotels started doing their own online booking so it became less of a fight with the hotel industry. But there were times when I felt like we were getting it from all sides and I said, “Look, I’m just trying to make sure that the money we’re due is being collected. I don’t get to keep it.
“It was the largest collection that a local government had gotten from an online company.”
We ended up, we were in a lawsuit with several of these online companies and we went to mediation. And we got a settlement with Expedia. And I then got blasted in the newspaper because I couldn’t tell them exactly how much it was. Within a few month, because there was an anomaly in the collections, you could tell about how much it was. But I was prohibited by state law not being able to disclose how much money was being collected and by the terms of the agreement from exactly saying how much money it was. Instead of people saying, “Good job!” What I got most of was people saying, “What do you mean you can’t tell us how much it is?” I had a 30 minute conversation with one of the editions of “The Orlando Sentinel” arguing about it. And I said, “My lawyers are telling me I can’t do this.” And it was kind of like, what part of “no” do you not understand? But ultimately, it was the largest collection that a local government had gotten from an online company. I was very proud of it.
“The online companies, they would hire these really scary looking lawyers…”
And it was, I remember, it was so funny… the online companies, they would hire these really scary looking lawyers. And I remember sitting across the table once, and I couldn’t tell you which company it was, but the guy honest to God had skull and cross bone cuff links. And I thought you are not going to scare me. Anyway, and they were coming up – and to be fair, a lot of smaller governments that had gotten into this, if they said, “We’ll give you X amount of dollars, the smaller governments would say, “Okay, fine.” And when they said that to us, we said, “We don’t think that’s the right amount. We’ve estimated that’s not enough.” And I remember sitting across from this guy one time and he said, “Well, my experts say that this is the amount of money and my expert is a CPA.” And I said, “Well, my expert’s a CPA and I’m a CPA and this auditor’s a CPA and that auditor’s a CPA and we don’t agree with your CPA expert.” And they went, “Mmm. Maybe we’ll have to call a break now.”
“I couldn’t tell you how much money Air BNB started collecting, it was a lot. It was significant…”
Looking back on it, it was kind of fun. At the time it was horrible. Anyway, we got the settlement. We got the money. And so, when Air BNB – and I got crosswise with the county on it, too. We, believe it or not, ultimately they set it by my decision on the settlement. But before we got to that point, there were too many people trying to call the shots. But anyway, Air BNB contacted me, and said, “We’ll do this.” We’ll have a contract with you. You have to agree not to go and try to audit people for back taxes which may sound bad. But we know that would have been a huge expenditure of resources for maybe no return at all. They would act as the dealer if you will for their clients, but it would be handled from a proprietor’s standpoint the same way as a hotel. We wouldn’t do it by property and I said, “Okay.” And ultimately, even though I couldn’t tell you how much money Air BNB started collecting, it was a lot. It was significant. So that’s all good.
And that money goes back to help the county, right?
Tourist Development Tax is entirely the county’s money to spend. But it is restricted by state law as to how it can be spent. It is the only source of money that can be used to build or maintain the convention center. So that billion dollar structure that we have on I-Drive was entirely built with resort tax money. There are still bonds outstanding on that so those have to be paid with resort tax money. And any kind of operating deficit that the convention center has can only be paid with resort tax money. Expansions, maintenance, that sort of thing, that is entirely resort tax money. It is also to be used for promoting tourism. So, Visit Orlando, contractually gets a portion of it. It can also be used for building auditoriums and sporting venues with some restrictions. So the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center is being built almost entirely with resort tax money. But the resort tax became one of the most interesting and time consuming functions of my office. Because when the county was getting into the negotiations with the city about building the venues, we were very involved in that as to how the money could be spent and how much money it was going to be and all those different parts and pieces. And, once again, we were often the bad guys.
“We added tens of millions of dollars over the years to the collections…”
My office was the office that asked the questions that people didn’t want to ask and gave sometimes the answers that people didn’t want answered. And when you get used to that, it’s okay. I mean, that’s your job, is to be the one who asks those tough questions. I mean, I never liked being confrontational, nobody likes to have people mad at them. But, if that’s what your job is, then that’s what we did. And also, I will say, that not only because of the settlement of Expedia, but a lot of good auditing work over the years, we added tens of millions of dollars over the years to the collections. And, ultimately, we were able to persuade the hospitality industry that we were their partners. I was, I mean nobody likes to be audited, but we were helping keep the playing field level. And if the law was, this is what you’re supposed to be doing, then you want all of your competitors to be doing the same thing. And developed a really, really good working relationship with the hospitality industry. And going back to our earlier conversation, I think, the fact that I had worked at Walt Disney World for six years gave me some really helpful insight into that industry.
“All of those little pieces in my background at some point or another, helped me be better at my job…”
And so, it all kind of, all of those little pieces in my background at some point or another, helped me be better at my job. The auditing that I had done at Disney World, having had my own small business for a time. There were a handful of occasions when I would get a call from some small business who really needed to get paid a little bit faster than the cycle would have had them paid because they needed to make payroll. And if there was a good story there and we could do it, them we would cut them a check. Now my staff really, really didn’t like it when I said, “We’re going to cut a manual check because that’s extra work for them and you can’t just do it for everybody that calls and asks. But, I had been there and sometimes that’s the check that’s going to help you make payroll. And that’s all part of being here to help people and keep things going. So I did that, too. And, because I worked at the Florida Symphony Orchestra, I understood the need for government funding for the arts, too. So all those pieces.
LISTEN Part VII (11:04)
Now you’re on the Board of the Orlando Philharmonic, right?
I am. I loved working for the Symphony because it was very satisfying for me to go to a concert and feel like I had played some small role in making that happen and I just loved it. I loved being part of that organization and I really loved working for a nonprofit. It was my second favorite job after being comptroller. So I’m excited to be back being kind of part of the Orlando Philharmonic again because it’s important. I mean I love the music, but I also understand that it is a quality of life piece. I think that music education is hugely important to young people. I mean, there are millions of stories of peoples lives being changed because they learned to play an instrument or sing or something about music. I think exposure to the arts at an early age is just part of us being civilized. And not only music, nut all art. But is was the music that I was a part of and it’s important and I love it!
Speaking of being active in the community, this is kind of a funny question, but I heard that you actually used to play on a women’s basketball team with a library administrator. Do yo remember? Was it Judy Mucci you played with?
It was Joan Erwin, Community Relations. You say team. It was a pick up group. I never had played sports before and somebody asked me if I wanted to come do it and it sounded like a hoot! It was a bunch of old ladies who decided that we were going to pretend that we weren’t old ladies and got out and rented the gym at the First Presbyterian Church for a while. It was great fun! It was absolutely for fun. But as it went on, some people who actually knew how to play basketball, who had played in high school, and they were more physical and aggressive than those of us who just thought it was really exciting if the ball went in the hoop, you know. So after a while it got a little rough and some of us said, “You know, it hurts to get hit with a basketball.” You know, we used to sort of get out of people’s way if we thought they had a shot at the hoop. This was not serious competitive sports. But it was fun. It was supposed to be a secret, too. We did not want people watching us. But, it got out somehow. Somebody who worked at “The Sentinel” or somebody who knew somebody who worked at “The Sentinel”, anyway it got out.
Judy Mucci, Library Administrator
Judy Mucci was a dear friend of mine that I knew through the Women’s Political Caucus. It was how I knew Joan too. Judy didn’t play basketball with us, but Joan did. I guess, we did that for a year or so, but it’s in the far distant past now. However, I will say, I was out with my grandchildren last spring and thee was a basketball hoop in the neighborhood, I was very proud to be able to show my four year old grandson how to get a ball through the hoop. And then also convinced him that he needed a much shorter one. It was fun!
And you retired from Comptroller January 2, 2017 to be with your grandchildren, right?
Well, there are a lot of reasons I retired, but certainly the grandchildren are a big piece of that. You know, when I got elected in ’88, in my wildest dreams I wouldn’t have thought I was going to be there for 28 years. But every four years when I would decide if I was going to run again I could think of anything else I’d rather be doing. And I felt like it was making a difference. What we were doing was important and so I was lucky to be able to stay that long.
And it has made a difference and it’s showing now like the Tourist Development Tax that we talked about.
It’s an amazing revenue source for this county. It really is. It’s not actually a pot of gold, but it almost feels like it. One of the conversations I had more times than I can remember, when there started being talk of building a new performing arts center or the Magic maybe getting a newer expanded home and people started paying a lot more attention to the resort tax because it had grown so much. The only routine press release that I did, rather than answer the same question twelve times, we started doing a press release on what the collection had been for the resort tax. But then I had to explain to people that that wasn’t like new money; it was new money, but it was already committed. I had huge bond payments to make. And so, just because we had collected a hundred million dollars this year doesn’t mean we had a hundred million dollars to spend. We’d kind of already spent that. So that was a mixed blessing getting in to publicizing that. But, it’s real and it’s there and people need to understand it. Yeah, the resort tax got to be an exciting and a big piece of what I did.
Well thank you for taking time to explain it to us today… Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said in a statement, “Martha has performed her duties with exceptional skill. She’s a consummate professional, and has never let politics or other factors impact her office. Martha Haynie has really defined the Office of Comptroller and leaves a legacy of superior stewardship, capability, and outstanding public service.
Well, you make me blush. Thank you. Thank you. You know it took me a very long time to be able to accept that anything I did had anything to do with that praise. I mean, to be fair, I had wonderfully talented people working for me. But it took me a long time before I could accept that part of that success was mine. That I had good people working for me because they wanted to work for me. I don’t know if that’s being southern or what. It always embarrassed me when people said really nice things about me, but I appreciated it. Thank you.
Interview: Martha Ogden Haynie
Interviewer: Jane Tracy
Date: July 23, 2018
Place: Orlando Public Library