RICHMOND — The warren of cream-and-grey cubicles where Virginia’s payroll analysts sit is not generally known as a place of dizzying excitement.
So when Gov. Terry McAuliffe showed up unannounced Thursday afternoon just to schmooze, benefits accountant Catherine Royal didn’t even try to keep cool.
“You came to the fish fry!” Royal told the Commonwealth’s 72nd governor, recalling an Amelia County campaign stop during McAuliffe’s first, failed run in 2009. “I fixed your plate!”
“You got the best fish!” McAuliffe enthused. “You remember how warm it was?”
And so it went: The governor, in his first week on the job, popping in on people like Becky Burton, a lead payroll analyst who started working for the commonwealth exactly 38 years before.
“If I had known that I’d have brought a cake,” McAuliffe said.
The governor would glance at a name plate outside each cubicle, then poke his head in and greet workers by their first name, a nice trick that drew wide-eyed smiles — and at least one correction.
“Hello Sheri!” McAuliffe said.
“It’s Shih-ree,” said analyst Sherrie Winston.
McAuliffe thanked them for their service, told them they looked good, then went to a version of his go-to question: “Any advice if you were governor for a day?”
Some, like Debbie Bartinikas, couldn’t help a bit of reflexive parochialism: “Raises for state employees!”
Others were befuddled, perhaps kicking themselves for being unprepared.
“Any advice for me?” McAuliffe asked David Wiley, a financial analyst.
“Not really,” Wiley said.
“If you do, call me up,” McAuliffe said, “I’m very accessible.”
But some, like Jean Turlington, seemed like they’ve been waiting for decades to get such a question from the governor.
She told McAuliffe the state should stop paying employees early around holidays, as she said was the case just before Thanksgiving. Turlington, director of the state’s payroll service bureau, said payments were made that Wednesday, Nov. 27, when they would typically have been made on a Friday. That Friday was a state holiday, but banks were open, and the state’s practice has been to pay early in such cases, she said.
“That’s kind of been burning with me,” she said, noting that two days of interest should have been kept for the state’s benefit. McAuliffe loved the advice and told Turlington to describe the details to an aide tagging along with him.
“He’ll give them directly to me,” McAuliffe said.
After the governor walked off, Turlington was still pumped. “I was so nervous. I didn’t know I was talking face to face with him,” she said. Her bureau, she said, “is anything but bureaucratic. We’re just trying to get as much done as we can” with limited resources.