History of the Office of State Auditor

The term "auditor" dates back to the original colonial constitution adopted on March 1, 1669, where twelve positions were authorized, but there is no evidence that they ever functioned in their capacity to keep rent rolls, and other accounts. As the colony grew, however, the General Assembly and comptrollers of the King of England appointed boards of auditors to serve in various communities to handle matters as designated by the English monarchy. 

In 1782, the General Assembly appointed Richard Caswell as the first Comptroller of the State of North Carolina. His duties were to direct the mode of stating, checking, and controlling all public accounts and to keep these accounts for inspection by the General Assembly. In addition, ten boards of auditors were to be located in various parts of the State. 

This system remained in place until 1862 when the General Assembly established the Office of Auditor of Public Accounts. The 1868 Constitution provided that the State Auditor should be elected by the people and was to "superintend the fiscal affairs of the State; examine and settle accounts of persons indebted to the State; liquidate claims by persons against the State; and to draw warrants on the State Treasurer for moneys to be paid out of the treasury." 

In 1872, the system of county taxes on property, polls, and income was established with the local sheriff acting as the tax collector. The State Auditor was to prepare the forms for listing taxes and provide them to each sheriff. He was to report to the State Treasurer the amounts due to each fund and if any of the sheriffs defaulted on their accounts. The Revenue Act of 1923 relieved the Auditor of his local tax duties. 

The legislature in 1921 strengthened the power of the State Auditor by giving the office the power to examine, audit and adjust accounts. However, it also made the Auditor responsible for disbursements and the overall accounting system. This dual role presented the Auditor with substantive issues of potential conflict and certainly independence, in carrying out the assigned duties. It was 1955 before the General Assembly separated the duties by transferring the purely accounting functions to a new position in the executive branch. This change resulted in the State Auditor being in a position of independence to review and comment on the operational and financial affairs of North Carolina State Government. 

Article V, Chapter 147 of the North Carolina General Statutes gives the Auditor broad powers to examine all books, records, files, papers, documents, and financial affairs of every state agency. The Auditor also has the power to summon people to produce records and to answer questions under oath.

State Auditors since 1862

Auditors of Public Accounts Term
Samuel F. Phillips 1862-1864
Richard H. Battle 1864-1865
State Auditors Term
Henderson Adams 1868–1873
John Reilly 1873–1877
Samuel L. Love 1877–1881
William P. Roberts 1881–1889
George W. Sandlin 1889–1893
Robert M. Furman 1893–1897
Hal W. Ayer 1897–1901
Benjamin F. Dixon 1901–1910
Benjamin F. Dixon, Jr. 1910–1911
William P. Wood 1911–1921
Baxter Durham 1921–1937
George Ross Pou 1937–1947
Henry L. Bridges 1947–1981
Edward Renfrow 1981–1993
Ralph Campbell, Jr.  1993–2005
Leslie W. Merritt, Jr. 2005–2009
Beth A. Wood, CPA 2009 - 2023
Jessica N. Holmes 2023 - present


Source: North Carolina Manual