Martha Haynie | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Martha Haynie

Background:  

The seven-term elected comptroller of Orange County, Martha Haynie first won the office in 1988. She’s an independent watchdog who has overseen spending and investments, financial reporting, and controversial investigations related to the county’s $3.6 billion annual budget, which includes approximately $235 million in Tourism Development Tax funds. She recently announced her retirement and will be stepping down in January.

The Mistake:

I let myself be positioned as a staff person.

I was elected in November 1988. I went from being a staff person with four people who worked for me in a struggling, but important, nonprofit to being the chief financial officer of Orange County. I did not recognize how important it was for me to take on the trappings of the office if you will. I moved the flags out of my office because I thought they looked pompous. I told people to call me Marty.

And what that did was it positioned me – not so much in my office but outside of my office – as a staff person rather than an elected official. My insecurity and my inexperience in understanding how important I was, that people call me Comptroller, has dogged me ever since.​​

It’s about the respect and the authority of the office.

The Lesson:

I can’t remember exactly what the discussion was, but I will tell you that they called the first elected [county] chairman at board meetings “Madam Chairman,” and they called each other “Commissioner” – and they called me “Marty.”

I don’t remember the topic of the discussion, but there was something that happened at a board meeting during my second or third year in office. And the office was being disrespected and I was being disrespected. I remember coming back into my office and fighting back angry tears. And [then] I said, “Get those damn flags back in my office.”

I realized the importance of being recognized as a peer with these other elected officials. I hadn’t realized it wasn’t about Marty Haynie. It was about the Office of the Comptroller. One of the things I did was get very clear with my staff to refer to me in public as the "Comptroller" or as "Comptroller Haynie" because they called me Martha – that’s who I am to them and it’s who I wanted to be to them. But I had to instill in them if you step out of our offices, then call me “Comptroller”  and don’t call me “Ms. Haynie.” Use my title.

There’s [also] a part of me that is glad that I’m just Marty. But for my office, it was a mistake. I let the office not be recognized and respected as an independent constitutional office.

For years I used to be introduced in places as being “from the comptroller’s office.” And after a while, I would start standing up in social gatherings and say, “Wait a minute – I am the controller.” There was an awards dinner, and [a female transportation official] who was a friend of mine was introducing the elected officials and she introduced [them] and said, “and Martha Haynie.” And I said, "Wait a minute – if he’s 'honorable,' then I’m 'honorable.'”

In meetings now, the county staff and the board [of commissioners] all call me by my title. But even today, every Tuesday [during public hearings], probably eight out of 10 of the people who go to speak address the mayor and commissioners. It’s fairly recent that they will [introduce their comments with], “Mayor, Commissioner, Comptroller Haynie.”

If I had it to do over again, I would tell myself that being an elected official is a big deal. It’s not about you. It’s about the respect and the authority of the office, and get used to it. When [the state association has] orientation for newly elected clerks, that’s one of the things I tell them: Keep the flags, insist on being called by your title when you’re out of the office. Because otherwise, it’s really difficult to turn it around.

Follow Martha Haynie at @occompt or Orange County government at @OrangeCoFL.

Photo courtesy of Martha Haynie

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