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Four years ago, Nancy A. Naples, a newcomer to local politics, won the job of Erie County comptroller. Since then, she has built an excellent record as the "people's watchdog" of county finances. Without question, she has earned the opportunity to serve a second term.

Indeed, the choice of Republican Naples, 49, for this $80,000 post should be an easy one. Her opponent, Democrat Joan Rogacki Warren, also 49, an attorney with her own law practice, displays only a superficial understanding of the comptroller's duties.

Part of that role as an independently elected official is to keep an alert eye on how tens of millions of dollars of county money is managed and spent.

Naples has ably fulfilled those responsibilities. Her audits of county departments prevented the loss of an estimated $4.4 million in state and federal reimbursements, including $4 million in Social Service funds. Similar audits by her department spotlighted numerous unfilled jobs in county government. Her office wrote a new manual on accounting procedures and helped overhaul an aging computer system.

In her first term, Naples made and saved money for the taxpayers. Her investment of county funds raised $40 million in interest revenue. She saved another $25 million in interest the county would have paid on money it borrowed.

This included $20 million saved through her creative plan to finance the county portion of the new downtown hockey arena. More recently, she proposed a so-called "lease leaseback" plan to pay the county's share of the Buffalo Bills stadium lease. That initiative, under study by the Greater Buffalo Partnership, awaits a decision by the Erie County lawmakers.

The Erie County Legislature, controlled by Democrats, showed its confidence in Naples as a comptroller when it asked her to examine the financial practices at both the Erie County Water Authority and Erie Community College. At the water authority, especially, agency audits identified imprudent and inept, though not illegal, practices.

The achievements of Naples underscore the importance of pertinent experience in critical positions of local government. Before becoming comptroller, she earned a master's degree in business administration from Pace University and served for two decades in various financial capacities on Wall Street. At one time, she was the highest ranking woman employed by the parent company of Marine Midland Bank.

As the chief financial officer of Erie County, a comptroller has substantial multiple duties to perform. Naples must be able to cooperate with others, and she has become an asset within this wider context of responsibilities. But there must be limits to that cooperation -- as her predecessor, Alfreda Slominski demonstrated, too. A comptroller's role as the citizens' watchdog of county finances requires the toughness and independence to ask hard, critical questions of powerful elected colleagues.

That she is a Republican looking over the shoulder of a Democratic county executive and Legislature enhances this independent-check responsibility. On merit and past performance alone, however, Nancy Naples should be an easy choice for re-election to a second four-year term.

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