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Rachel Riddle is a 2022 Woman of Impact

At first glance, Rachel Riddle might look like a sweet people-pleaser – but nothing could be further from the truth.

She’s sweet, sure, but she’s no pushover. Her naturally direct disposition is ideal when serving in her role as chief examiner of the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts.

“At the end of the day, this position of chief examiner for the state is the one holding all the public officials accountable,” she said. “Those are some pretty big shoes to fill, but I feel like it’s a good fit for my personality.”

Since being appointed to the office in 2018, succeeding a predecessor who held the position for nearly 40 years, Riddle has built back a staff that was down more than 100 examiners and worked with legislatures to increase government accountability in a “rational” way.

“I have always felt like you can write a piece of legislation and it sounds great, but if you can’t sit back and wonder how it’s going to be when it’s implemented, that’s where the problem is,” she said. “Our department is the one people look to when they think something is going on in their local area, so it is very important to me that I hold myself and the people who work for me to a high standard. With our reputation, so goes potentially the reputation of government, to some extent. We are the ones who are supposed to be holding people’s feet to the fire.”

It takes thick skin to do what Riddle does, but she prides herself on possessing high integrity and an ability to say “no” in order to be successful in such an important role.

“You can’t be a people pleaser,” she said. “It’s a very taxing job. You have to be okay with making the right decision and moving on.”

Riddle has a degree in finance and a master’s in economics from the University of Alabama, as well as a law degree from Jones School of Law. Law school was always in the plan for Riddle, but her dad, an attorney in her hometown of Chatom in Washington County, wanted his daughter to first get a degree in something “useful.” So, she took an interest in the big picture of economics.

Her grand plan was always to go back to her tiny hometown and practice law with her father, but she ended up meeting her husband, Rob, at Jones and the two stayed in Montgomery after graduation. 

Riddle first worked in government for the Legislature, in what was then the Legislative Fiscal Office. Her focus there was on health and social services. She started from the ground up, asking to take more on as her interest in the inner workings of the office grew. Though unintentional, it was a great fit for her educational background, as the office she worked for was in charge of drafting the state’s budget. 

At age 30, Riddle was promoted to Senate fiscal officer, one of the top jobs within the department. In that capacity, she handled all fiscal issues for the Alabama Senate.

“I wasn’t trying to get a job like that, but I put my head down and was extremely interested in everything going on there,” she said. “It was just very interesting to me to see the big picture of how state government really runs. When you’re there, you’re exposed to everything, you’re not in a silo.”

As Senate fiscal officer, Riddle got to know members of the Legislature well. Her nonpartisan responsibilities included providing facts and background information, which the members and the people who worked for them in their partisan offices would then take and use to make a decision.

When the legislative department was thinking of a succession plan for chief examiner, Riddle came to mind.

“I’m assuming they looked to me because they liked how I conducted myself in my role at the legislature,” she said. “They trusted me.”

And Riddle trusts them, too. She gives credit to the elected officials who appoint the top people in the state to these long term positions. 

“There are some really good people keeping things going in Montgomery on a daily basis,” Riddle said. “And when I say really good people, I mean people who care about the state of Alabama. That is something that’s very important to me. I don’t make the best decisions for my department only. That is selfish.

“I try to make decisions for the state as a whole.”

Riddle, who is the first female appointed as Alabama’s chief examiner, acknowledges that while the field she works in is made up largely of men, though it’s getting much better on that front.

She’s never felt uncomfortable or out of place in the Legislature; something she attributes to the way she was brought up by her father, who treated her and her sister no differently than if he had had two sons. 

“Whether it was manual labor, or anything that needed to be done, we did it,” she said. “I just kind of have always had that instilled in me. They have never treated me any differently in the legislature; they have always respected me and treated me well.

“Obviously there was a male who held my position for almost 40 years, but when I took over, I didn’t get any pushback.”

Riddle has always been well-respected in the Legislature. She recognizes those who came before her as the ones who laid the groundwork for making things a little more equal in her field.

“I do think there were women who were trailblazers in the Legislature, like Sen. Vivian Figures and my former boss, Joyce Bigsby, who was the legislative fiscal officer for Alabama for decades. Those types of women set the tone for there not to be a difference in expectations. I don’t want to discount the fact that it was ‘easy’ for me, because there are reasons that it is that way.”

Riddle’s job is demanding and leaves little time for much else in her life, other than her family. She and her husband have three children, ages nine, six and three. She credits her husband with helping her get to where she is today.

“Anybody that knows me knows the most important things in my life are God and family and work,” she said. “I spend all my time either with family or at work. This is big for a lot of women, but without the support of my husband, I couldn’t do this. This job is stressful, but we are very very much a team. He steps up more than I could have ever dreamed a husband would step up and do. And sometimes I have to step up. He’s a lawyer and he’s busy, too.

“But it would not be possible if I didn’t have a husband like he is. And I know that sounds cliche, but it’s the truth. I’m just a normal girl trying to do a good job.” 

Yellowhammer News is proud to name Rachel Riddle a 2022 Woman of Impact.

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