Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of profiles highlighting the diverse interests and careers of VSCPA members. Know a member (including yourself) who would make for an interesting profile? Email VSCPA Communications Manager Chip Knighton.
At the VSCPA, we’ve always said you can do anything with an accounting degree. But we have to admit, “ice-cream shop owner/state legislator” is a new one for us. VSCPA member Joe McNamara, CPA, is one election away from being just that.
McNamara, a Republican from Roanoke County, is facing off against Democrat Carter Turner to replace Del. Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) in representing the 8th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He has served on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors since 1998 (with a gap from 2009–2013) and cites his CPA bona fides as one of his main selling points for the potential new position.
In 2004, McNamara started discussions with another VSCPA member, Drew Barrineau, CPA, of the Roanoke County School Board, about how better to allocate funding for school and other capital expenditures. With the two CPAs leading the way, the boards devised a funding plan to better serve the county’s needs and allow for year-end budget surpluses to be saved for construction projects.
“The goal was to have a capital fund that can support $10 million annually, without a tax increase, without cutting service, without jeopardizing raises,” McNamara said. “To my knowledge, there’s no other place in Virginia that has this approach, and it’s the result of two CPAs working together.”
McNamara is quick to credit the other members of each board for recognizing the value of the plan, and to praise the mix of experiences and backgrounds among those involved in the discussion. But to hear him tell it, the CPA mentality is too often missing from government. (Which it is in the Virginia General Assembly — if elected, McNamara would be the first CPA in the General Assembly since the retirement of VSCPA member and longtime Sen. Walter Stosch, CPA, in 2015.)
“The analytical approach to problem solving is a fabulous component in group decision-making,” McNamara said. “That’s not to say that everybody has to have that emphasis or that direction, because other thought processes will help modify and create good results, but at the end of the day, whether you’re running a business, whether you’re running a government, whether you’re running a household, if you don’t budget effectively, the results will not be good.
“Every single day, I might not be balancing a general ledger or posting entries, but that background as an accountant impacts my decisions every single day.”
McNamara, who is quick to clarify that he is not in active practice and hasn’t been for some time, graduated from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce before starting his career with Pennsylvania-based information technology company Unisys. He started out as part of the financial sales team, then rose to the position of Client Account Director before leaving in 2000 to focus on the more delicious portion of his career.
He and his wife, Cheryl, started Katie’s Ice Cream & Chocolates in Roanoke County in 1995 and purchased the Salem Ice Cream Parlor in Salem a decade later. Factor in his government commitments and a sizable family and it’s easy to see where all his time went.
All five of the McNamara children — Josh, Patrick, Joey, Corey and Colleen — have worked in his shops at some point. Josh followed his father’s accounting interest, graduating from James Madison University with an accounting degree and working for a small firm in Fredericksburg.
With just Colleen left in school at James Madison University, the McNamara nest is almost empty, freeing up some time for Dad to focus on a higher-profile government position. In a Republican-leaning district, McNamara is hopeful he’ll be in Richmond in a few months, but he’s not losing focus as the finish line nears.
“The key to the election is turnout,” he said. “Virginians sometimes suffer from voter fatigue. We’re one of the few states in the country that has elections every single year. There’s a tendency among some to vote in presidential election years and maybe others just vote in the governor election years, but the off-year elections are super important as well. The key is people researching the views of the individual candidates, going out and casting their vote.”