OAKLAND -- It was shaping up to be the first competitive race in 28 years for Alameda County's auditor-controller, before the reform-minded challenger's candidacy was tarnished by her arrest on six felony charges.

Now, the election is only contested on paper: Kathleen Knox has dropped out of the race, but her name will still appear on the June 3 ballot. That leaves only one candidate, Chief Deputy Auditor Steve Manning, still running.

If he wins, Manning promises to seamlessly continue the leadership style and policies of the boss he hopes to replace. Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder Patrick O'Connell is retiring at the end of the year after directing the accounting and record-keeping agency since 1987.

"We're pretty similar people. We're hands-on," Manning said.

Knox had promised to root out waste and fraud but now has her own fraud accusations to worry about. She was arrested and charged this month with lying about her residency to run for the job and illegally voting in a San Leandro election despite living in Contra Costa County. She pleaded not guilty on May 6.

The criminal case had brought unexpected attention to a little-watched but important 161-year-old auditing office with a $31.2 million budget and 227 employees. Alameda County is one of just a handful in California where the jobs of chief auditor, controller, recorder and county clerk are all held by one person -- a consolidation that O'Connell oversaw in 1992. The wide range of duties includes reviewing invoices, auditing grants, resolving contract disputes and keeping maps.

Manning said his 27-year career in Alameda County's auditing office, including 12 years as O'Connell's chief deputy, make him the right candidate.

"The job we consider most dearly is accountability," Manning said. "We have to keep track of all the county's expenditures, all the revenues."

In the clerk-recorder role, Manning promises to treat county residents as customers. He wants to open satellite offices so residents in far-flung parts of the county do not have to travel to downtown Oakland to retrieve important documents.

As the auditor, he wants to closely monitor the expenses of county officials and strengthen internal controls.

"If we see someone going out for a steak and lobster, we're going to flag that," Manning said.

He could think of no examples, however, of when he or his office uncovered major fraud or gross negligence.

Before she withdrew from the race, Knox had promised to aggressively examine waste, fraud, financial conflicts of interest, unjustified car allowances and the "outrageous pay" she said is awarded to Alameda County executives and elected supervisors.

The auditor's post is itself a high-paying job. The annual salary will be $287,445 in 2015, when the new auditor takes office, according to the county counsel's office. With benefits, the total cost of employing O'Connell last year was about $404,000, according to this newspaper's salary database.

O'Connell, who turns 71 next month, said in an interview that he planned to run for another four-year term but backed out after talking with his wife about retirement. He told Manning about his decision just a week or so before the March filing deadline, leaving little time for outside candidates to learn about the open seat and file papers.

O'Connell endorsed his deputy. So have all five members of the Board of Supervisors, the county sheriff and Fremont's mayor, according to Manning. Knox had listed endorsements by several San Leandro politicians, including City Councilwomen Diana Souza and Ursula Reed. San Leandro Mayor Stephen Cassidy rescinded his endorsement after Knox's arrest.

Manning has a school-age daughter. He grew up in Oakland's Fruitvale district and still lives in the city. Knox, the daughter of a former Alameda County treasurer and supervisor, also grew up in Oakland, but her current residency is disputed.

She listed the Rose Gate assisted living home in San Leandro as her home address on voter and candidacy papers. The Alameda County District Attorney's Office has accused her of residing in a house she owns in Danville, which is in Contra Costa County.

"The distractions of the current events have become overwhelming and my focus now needs to be entirely on my family, my business and my private life," Knox wrote in a statement emailed Sunday announcing she was "officially and respectfully" withdrawing from the race.

Describing herself as the first woman to ever run for the seat and the first challenger in nearly three decades, she said: "I only hope that I am not the last."

ALAMEDA COUNTY AUDITOR-CONTROLLER CANDIDATE
Steve Manning
Age: 54
Career: Alameda County's chief deputy auditor since 2002
Education: Attended Cal State Hayward (no degree)