Missouri State Auditor Tom Schweich reviewed his first two years in office Friday night, April 12, at the Phelps County Lincoln Day Celebration.
“When I got there the place was in total shambles,” he said.
The first man to serve as Missouri state auditor since James Antonio resigned in 1984 and was replaced by Margaret Kelly, a Republican who served until 1999, Republican Schweich defeated Democrat Susan Montee in November 2010. Montee was elected in 2006, succeeding Claire McCaskill, the Democrat who had been elected in 1998.
“I defeated her,” Schweich declared. In 2012, Montee ran for lieutenant governor and Peter Kinder defeated her. “And if she comes back like a zombie, we’ll defeat her again.”
Schweich said he has taken action to be responsive to residents of Missouri.
“Out job is to make sure you get accountability,” Schweich said. “I don’t report to anybody but you.”
To that end, he has taken a number of steps.
“I formed a rapid response team,” Schweich said. That was in response to complaints that wrong-doers were destroying evidence before the auditors arrived to look over the records.
Schweich said the use of the rapid response team was effective in the investigation of a St. Louis School principal, lauded and lavished with awards, but reported by teachers who said she required them to turn in written attendance reports that the principal entered into the computer for reporting to the state.
The teachers said they had discovered the principal was falsifying the attendance, making it higher than it really was so the school received more state money.
“By the time we got there, she had already destroyed two-thirds of the manual reports,” he said. Nevertheless, the rapid response team was able to retain enough records to discover that “a massive case of attendance fraud” was taking place,
Schweich said he also received a call from a judge in southwest Missouri that a clerk was stealing money. The team showed up and found the clerk had stolen $20,000.
Another complaint was that state audit reports are long and complicated.
Schweich, whose background is in law enforcement, not in accounting or auditing, said he agreed, so now all state audits are prefaced with an explanation in plain English.
Schweich also said, “I put a grading system in place.” That makes the reporting of the audit more understandable.
Finally, Schweich said, he began audit follow-ups, sending a team back 90 days after an audit to see what actions have been taken.
“Over 90 percent of our recommendations and requirements are being implemented,” he said.
The number of audits is way up, he claimed, from 90 a year before he took office to 150 now, thanks to his staff.
A priority is going after embezzlers.
“We have a whole embezzlement training program,” he said.
First, they look for an office with a failure to separate reconciliation of data. Then they look for a person who doesn’t take vacations, because an embezzler doesn’t want anyone else to look at the books. They also look at a public official’s car to see if it’s an expensive model on a moderate salary. They also look for someone who gives out gifts, such as iPods and iPads.
“I’m not going to tell everything, but when you get down to step six or seven, you’ve got an embezzler,” Schweich said.
Schweich said he wants to make sure the Legislature receives accurate information
“You’ve got a great legislative delegation here,” he said.
He wants to make sure Dr. Dan Brown, state senator, and the area’s state legislators have the truth, not what Gov. Jay Nixon might be claiming.
For instance, Schweich said Gov. Nixon was claiming the addition of 26,000 jobs with a jobs program. “We audited and found 7,000 jobs,” he said. “It might even be lower.”
And auditing of school districts is quite important, he said.
“I’ve audited the four largest school districts in the state,” he said.
He looks for stealing, for instance. It used to be schools would lose desks to theft. Now it is iPods and computers.
There is also the possibility of paying contractors too much or too often. He said one school district paid a contractor for a $1.2 million project twice.
Schweich said he believes the richest school districts should be audited just as the poorer and moderate districts are. It used to be the richest districts were not touched. He has changed that, he said.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder also spoke to Phelps County Republicans.
He spoke emphatically about the scanning of personal documents by the Department of Revenue and the turning over of concealed carry permit information by the Missouri State Highway Patrol to the federal government.
Kinder said Gov. Nixon tried to cover up the revenue department scanning.
“A cover up is under way, but a cover up is being exposed by your elected representatives,” he said. “Some heads are going to roll.”