Port: North Dakota needs an honest auditor
"The accountability measures lawmakers have put in place for the auditor represent good policy, but they won't address the elephant in the room, which is North Dakotans can't trust their auditor."
MINOT, N.D. — State lawmakers have passed some significant new policies addressing deep-seated problems in the state auditor's office.
Auditor Josh Gallion and his office will be going through an exacting performance audit, one that it is hoped will be executed without the sort of egotistic media-hounding and political intrigues that have plagued the auditor's office under Gallion's leadership.
Gallion will also have to report quarterly to lawmakers about his audits, including how much he's billing for them. Costs for audits have soared under Gallion, hitting local taxpayers hard and creating tension with the government entities under review, and lawmakers want regular opportunities for oversight.
These are good things, though I'd point out that they would have been unnecessary under previous auditors who could do their jobs professionally and diligently without needing legislative babysitters.
I don't believe the problems plaguing the auditor's office can be solved with policy. It's a personnel problem. To truly fix the auditor's office, we need someone better than Gallion running it.
"My hope is that ... we've got things so that the auditor just goes out and takes care of the audits and tries to help them, and if somebody's doing something wrong, get them on the right track so that they're doing it right," Rep. Mike Brandenburg, a Republican from Edgeley, told the Bismarck Tribune.
An auditor who does his job without the need to play at being a political celebrity is my hope, too, but how likely is that outcome when the auditor is an egomaniac preoccupied in making good content for talk radio and Facebook?
Back when lawmakers first began the debate over accountability measures for his office, Gallion lashed out, making wild and unsubstantiated accusations of corruption. But Gallion's tantrum was perhaps understandable as a distraction tactic. When the debate went forward, we learned about some of the ugliness he and his office have been involved in.
In Killdeer, a staff member in Gallion's office leaked audit information to local political activists, influencing an election.
Two local governments, the city of Parshall and Griggs County, have so little trust in the ability of Gallion's office to produce fair and impartial audits that they've refused to pay some of the bills his office has sent them.
During a legislative committee hearing, a representative from Gwinner's volunteer fire district played audio from a talk radio interview Gallion did about their audit in which he repeatedly lied about its findings, sensationalizing them to make it seem like the firefighters were getting drunk on the taxpayer's dime.
I repeat, Gallion said things about the audit of the Gwinner Fire District that were not true according to the findings in his own audit. This was exposed, definitively in a legislative hearing.
Perhaps he did it to make himself a more interesting guest.
I don't know.
Whatever his motivations, Gallion's treatment of the firefighters was so egregious that lawmakers appropriated a partial reimbursement for their audit.
The reforms and accountability measures lawmakers have implemented for the auditor's office represent good policy. Still, they won't address the elephant in the room, which is that North Dakotans can't trust their auditor.