Accountability really does count

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Some years ago the phrase &uot;Character Counts&uot; became extremely popular in politics.

Today’s buzz phrase among politicians seems to be &uot;Accountability Counts.&uot;

Why hasn’t accountability always counted? If it had, our state wouldn’t be in the shape it is today.

After all, accountability is a fundamental business principle and a moral value.

It should not have taken a $1.2 billion tax plan to be rejected by a ratio of more than three to one in some counties in this state for Montgomery to decide to become accountable. Our government officials should have been accountable first &045; if they had, there would have been no need for a tax plan in the first place.

If we’d not spent what we didn’t have, hadn’t bought what we didn’t need and taken care of what we owned, we’d have more, not less. Once again, a common sense business philosophy.

In the same breath that calls for accountability, we hear the news from Montgomery

that the two offices the Governor’s Commission is looking at abolishing are the Ethics Commission and the State Auditor’s Office. Imagine that &045; two major offices of accountability in government.

The State Ethics Commission was established for obvious purposes &045; to stop corruption in government and to lead to the appropriate fines and punishment of those elected officials who break the law. It requires annual financial disclosure statements of elected officials and candidates &045;not a very popular agency but certainly a necessary one.

The State Auditor’s office is a constitutional office elected by and held accountable to the people of this state. If abolished, its duties would fall to the Examiners of Public Accounts &045; the office that answers to none other than the Alabama Legislature.

Who would you rather trust your money to – a person you elect or the legislature as a whole?

Our legislature has some fine, upstanding men and women in it &045; true public servants. We also have others who have openly, blatantly continued to waste and squander your tax dollars for years.

The state auditor’s office is the only arm of your government that audits the $1.2 billion of investments you have made, many times unknowingly, in cars, trucks, computer systems and the like.

Last year alone, $2 million of that property was lost, missing or stolen. I don’t know of one single Alabamian who has ever lost a car or truck, not permanently anyway.

Citizens don’t lose computer systems; farmers don’t lose tractors; and hunters don’t lose four wheelers &045; so why should your government? It shouldn’t.

That’s why my office is working toward &uot;you lose, you pay&uot; legislation to hold government officials more accountable.

The state auditor’s office audits property valued at a higher amount of money than is in the general fund budget. It is also one of the smallest agencies with the greatest responsibility and return on your investment &045; auditing $1.2 billion a term on a budget less than a million dollars a year &045; $783,560.84 to be exact.

The reasoning behind abolishing the auditor’s office is that it would &uot;save the taxpayers thousands of dollars.&uot;

In actuality it wouldn’t save the taxpayers one thin dime. The job would have to be done by some agency in state government.

And let me remind you that the agency proposed to take over the auditor’s office responsibilities is run by the Alabama Legislature.

If the people of this state see fit to give up your right to elect a state auditor in the future, so be it.

I will support the decision of the people.

But for the next three years, I am here, where those same people have put me and will continue to guard and protect your investments and give you true accountability in your government.

My agency gladly took an 18 percent budget cut and did it without losing one single employee yet. I was proud to cut my budget.

And no, I haven’t purchased a $38,000 Eddie Bauer SUV with your tax dollars.

My staff and I have made common sense decisions and used basic, fundamental business principles like buying a used car to protect your millions of dollars in investments.

Some in Montgomery would love to see the fox guarding the hen house &045; and historically in many ways it has been.

But look where has the fox gotten us &045; in a fox hole, covering our heads, dodging bullets of debt and corruption.

State government may continue to be guarded by the fox in the future but not under my watch for the next three years.

I simply want to see more accountability in government and have worked and will continue to work to see that &uot;the people&uot; who elected me get it.

That may be why some are looking to abolish the office I presently hold &045; because in my office, accountability does count.

Beth Chapman serves as Alabama’s state auditor. She and her family have a home in North Shelby County