A half dozen people met state auditor Rob Sand in the Manchester Public Library Sept. 30 and heard what the auditor’s office is doing to implement taxpayer savings across the state.
Sand, a Democrat who was elected last year, explained a plan for efficiencies in county and local governments and also discussed two settlements involving wrongdoing by state officials.
He said since taking over in January, his office operates in a bipartisan manner. “In senior leadership roles in the office, I have a Democrat, a Republican and an Independent. Being nonpartisan you then put the public ahead of your party. You care that everyone is being served and that you are doing the right thing. I’m committed to doing that and I’m putting my money where my mouth is on that issue.”
He discussed his office’s Public Innovations and Efficiencies (PIE) plan for county and local governments. The initiative is a checklist of good government practices of how to save taxpayer money. “It’s not rocket science. I think pretty much everybody is supportive of the idea of saving money,” said Sand.
The checklist will be sent to county and city governments this year so baseline data can be measured. Sand said next year counties and cities making progress will be recognized.
“Every year we can have a PIE contest and recognize those public officials who are doing the most and I think that’s exciting. A lot of people work hard in county and city government and it’s usually a thankless job. This is a way for us to tell folks how well they are doing.”
He said small savings can add up. “We’re not talking massive amounts, but at the county and local levels, if you can save a little bit here and a little bit there, you can do things you were worried about not having the money to do. That can make a difference.”
Sand said counties and cities can learn from each other’s successes. “We will ask for PIE recipes. If Manchester has done something where they saved a bunch of money, we want to hear about it. We want to take the idea itself and spread it around the state. Perhaps someone else can benefit from it.”
Sand also discussed Medicaid.
“It obviously touches a lot of people’s lives. One in six Iowans qualify for the program, so most Iowans know someone who is on it. It’s a huge program that has undergone a revolution the last few years.”
Sand said that while some people believe privatization is working and others think it’s not, his office is interested in finding middle ground. “People act like there’s nothing in between. I’m not interested in doing that. That’s not the job of the state auditor and not the way politics should work. We’re investigating. Hopefully, when we are done, we will illuminate things that are working better and things that are working worse. Then the people in charge of the program can look at that and respond to it. At the end of the day, we hope we have a map of ways to make the program better that will lead to a system that is getting the job done.”
Sand addressed two lawsuits involving state officials and the cost to taxpayers.
In a suit involving Dave Jamison, the former head of the Iowa Finance Authority, Jamison was found to commit sexual harassment in the workplace, costing taxpayers $4 million.
“What he did was just beyond the pale. It’s disgusting and the victims should be made whole,” Sand explained.
Sand believes a section of the Iowa Code should be used to have Jamison reimburse Iowa taxpayers for his actions.
“It’s never been used before, but it says if someone’s conduct as a public employee that causes a loss for taxpayers is willful and wanton, then taxpayers can go after that individual and pay back the state.”
While Sand said people believe Jamison met that standard with his actions, others have not committed to filing suit against him. “I asked if we were going to make him pay and ended up voting against the settlements to the victims because no one else would commit to the idea of having Jamison reimburse the state. I think we need to do that.”
The other instance involved the suit by the former worker’s compensation commissioner, Chris Godfrey, against former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad. Godfrey accused Branstad of reducing his pay because of his sexual orientation. Jurors found in favor of Godfrey and awarded him $1.5 million.
Sand said he believes it’s appropriate to pay the settlement and not seek reimbursement from Branstad. “I’ve supported paying the bills related to this. It’s not appropriate to ask Branstad to personally pay. I have people in my own party upset with me on this, but the question to ask is this at what level of willful and wanton misconduct you need to hold a person personally responsible? I don’t think it is.”
Sand said he will not support paying for an appeal of the case by Branstad. “I don’t think it’s a good use of taxpayer money. I don’t see an appeal saving the taxpayers. I think it will be more expensive.”