State Auditor Sand discusses assertiveness, non-partisanship at Town Hall, Sept. 14
Thu, 09/29/2022 - 3:58pm admin
Sara Stromseth-Troy TPD Staff
CRESCO - State Auditor Rob Sand discussed the importance of assertiveness and non-partisanship at a Town Hall meeting in Cresco’s Beadle Park Wednesday, Sept. 14.
Sand, a native of Decorah, addressed a group of six attendees, describing how he feels these Town Halls are an important way to gauge the concerns of Iowans who may not want to call or email his office with a tip for fear of being outed as a whistleblower, but who are comfortable speaking to him in person.
“I do these stops every year; we have gotten a lot of tips of things from people we should dig into,” Sand said. “In my previous Town Halls, all of my questions were from people who had a bug locally on an issue, which is great. On occasion, we also have folks telling us what their experiences are with the state government; we audit every agency every year. If we go to the Department of Revenue and say, ‘Ok, here is what we want to look at; what do you think we should look at?’, we’re not going to get the same answers as if I’m in Southwest Iowa and four different county auditors say the same thing to me about their experiences with the Department of Revenue. Being out there to hear that information has been pretty useful as well,” he said.
Sand said he had two main points he wanted to discuss.
“The two main points that I want to make are regarding assertiveness and anti-partisanship. By assertiveness I mean this: Everybody understands that if you’re going to have a watchdog, you probably want it to bark slightly too often than not bark at the time it should have been barking. That’s the approach that we take. I would rather be assertive about things and occasionally get told that I’m doing too much than not do enough. You uncover more misspent money by doing it that way.
“We have set a record for the most misspent money uncovered in our first term. The bigger reason is, when people see that you’re being assertive, they take a step back. ‘Where is the line? What are we allowed to do? If our toe is half-an-inch over, he’s going to bark at us, so let’s just take one step back and not do that.’”
Sand said he will hold those to account who misspend money. He said his assertive approach has impressed people not necessarily inclined to agree with him on other issues.
“If you’re not supposed to make a purchase and you do it anyway, you will be criticized and you should. A guy from Allamakee County who has been an elected official and is a Republican, and so is not inclined to say nice things about me, said he’s been a state employee for 24 years and he’s never seen, until now, middle managers and bureaucrats worried about what the state auditor might think. Good. All of us worry about whether or not we’re going to get a speeding ticket. All of us worry about whether or not we’re following the law. (Middle managers and bureaucrats) should remember that the law applies to them, too. I think that’s important because we can deter people from doing bad things by making examples out of other people when they do it.”
He continued, “Here is a great example of that: The next time you see your legislators, ask them if they think people should go to prison if they steal a bunch of taxpayers money. I’m pretty sure their answer is going to be yes. Then I’d ask them why has that not become state law yet? I’ve been asking the legislature for three years to make large-scale theft of public funds a mandatory prison sentence and they haven’t done it yet. These are the kinds of crimes you can deter by punishing them effectively. If two guys are in a fight at a bar because they are drunk, and get arrested, prosecuted and go to jail for it, the next time two guys are in a fight at a bar, they aren’t going to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, the last two guys that were in a fight got in trouble; maybe we shouldn’t do this,’ because they are drunk and they’re mad. In contrast, people will steal money do it soberly, week after week, month after month, year after year. They are thinking about it every single time they do it. If we’re going to prevent crime, that’s the kind of crime we can prevent by making sure they know they are going to go to prison if they do it. I’m not saying we should throw away the key, but I’m saying, not just probation.
“If you’re assertive and let people know there are consequences, they’ll behave a little bit better. Everybody who has ever been a parent knows this,” Sand said.
“The other point I want to make is important because it has to do with trust of the office, and we have to have the trust of Iowans to operate, we need people to blow the whistle, and that’s anti-partisanship,” Sand said.
“People need to know that that’s what we do in this office and that’s the way I lead the office. Our senior leadership team is a Democrat, an Independent and a Republican. It includes people who made contributions to my opponent in 2018. If I was here to serve a person, I wouldn’t do a thing like that. If I was here to serve a party, I wouldn’t promote people who were in the other party, but I’m here to serve the public. I think that’s the right way to do any job that’s an elected position, but I think it’s especially important in the auditor’s office. We want people to know: I don’t care who your tip is about; if it’s about someone in my party, we’re going to take it seriously.”
Sand continued, “It also helps me make better decisions. The people who are making the decisions in the office don’t always vote the same way; the conversations we have are on things we agree on. What’s the allegation? What does the paperwork show? It’s not, ‘What is someone’s affiliation? ‘Who knows so-and-so?’ ‘Are we going to get any angry phone calls from our friends if we do this?’ We don’t have the same friends. I think that makes our office work better and people can trust the office.”
Sand said the auditor’s office has both criticized and defended the Reynolds administration.
“If we criticize the governor; sure, she’s earned it, sometimes. We have also defended the governor. Here’s an example: We have a couple of instances where she’s misspent COVID money. We’re the auditor. Raise your hand if you’ve ever enjoyed being audited? We’re not here to make friends. We’ve also not just put out audits but defended them. Here’s a good example of that. Remember at the beginning of the pandemic, when they would look at the percentage of positive tests that came back, as a gauge of how much they needed to close things down? It was back before you could do your own tests. If it was 50% positive it would close things down more; if it was 10% positive it would close things down less. People noticed that on a particular date, they would say, ‘This is our positivity rating’ and then after the fact, positive tests would get added for that date. So, they’d say, ‘You said it was 15%; but then over the last two months, you’ve added another 20 positive tests, so now, it’s actually 30% and the conclusion a lot of people reached was, you’re cooking the books and doing this on purpose, because you don’t want to close things down. We audited that. Here’s the answer: Iowa Department of Public Health and the Reynolds’ administration were doing what they were supposed to do. As soon as they got test results back from a lab, they added it to the database for the date that it was performed. The problem was our nation’s laboratory system wasn’t at pandemic capacity. We didn’t have enough people and enough labs open to make sure that every test was getting analyzed within a day or two of the test being performed. When we uncovered that, we didn’t leave it out of the report, which we could have if we wanted to serve a party. We don’t want to serve a party; we want to serve the public. We put it in the report. I don’t want people to criticize others, even if they are in the opposite party, for something they do not deserve criticism for. When I see people repeating this theory on social media, even a month or two ago, I reply to their point, ‘Hi; State Auditor here; actually, we audited that. Here’s a link to the report; you can read it if you want.’” If you want truth, integrity and accountability, you have to apply it to everybody.”
Sand said people who do good things should be praised, and mentioned the office’s Pie Program as an example.
“I want to emphasize one other piece. Truth, integrity and accountability, if you want to apply it to everybody, needs to be applied when they do a good job, too. That’s what our Pie Program does. If there is one thing that made me want to run for auditor in 2018, it was making a government efficiency program. Government efficiency is saving taxpayer money; period. The auditor’s office has always had a really broad authority to do that, but they didn’t have a program in place that was doing it on a regular basis. What we’ve made is an engine for constant improvement for cities, counties and school districts. The heart of the program is a four-or-five page checklist of basic, moneysaving things you can do; a pie chart. You check ‘yes’ if you are doing it or ‘no’ if you aren’t. You then send it back to us. Your constituents, city, county or school district can see how you are doing and it means we can see how you’re doing, which means you are eligible for recognition from our office if you are doing a good job. That’s our pie contest.”
He continued, “We also recognize most improved. I think hard work deserves recognition. I want positive recognition for good public service. We should lift up people who do well. The third part of the program is we collect ideas that save money and then add them to the pie chart, so they can spread across the state in the next year. If anybody in Howard County has an idea, tell us about it. The idea ultimately is to sit down, make your budget every year, look at the pie chart and consider one or two big ticket items to execute that year.”