‘Dream becomes reality’ Auditor looks forward to more accountability in state’s future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Her most memorable day was 365 days ago &045; a bright, crisp morning filled with the promise and anticipation of the next four years.

One year later, Alabama State Auditor Beth Chapman remembers that day clearly.

&uot;It was a dream becoming reality,&uot; she said. &uot;Riding up Dexter Avenue with my husband and my sons in the Inaugural Parade, all the red, white and blue.

&uot;It was the fulfillment of a dream that started when I was in the fourth grade.&uot;

Chapman, who lives with her husband, James, and sons, Taylor and Thatcher, in north Shelby County said she remembers that day with pride.

&uot;Yes, with pride, but also with a great amount of anticipation of what would lie ahead,&uot; she said.

Chapman was elected in the November 2002 general election with more than 650,000 votes. She took the oath of office on Jan. 21, 2003.

&uot;I feel very blessed and fortunate to have the opportunity to serve in elected office,&uot; she said.

It was a record election for Alabama’s central government with four of the seven top offices going to women.

&uot;I think the voters in this state want honesty and integrity in government,&uot; Chapman said. &uot;That was my only campaign promise.

&uot;The fact that I’m a woman is not relevant. What the voters want is a strong leader.&uot;

Being an elected official with a home and office in Montgomery and a family home in Shelby County has not been without its challenges, however.

&uot;It’s been hectic; but it’s a joy to serve,&uot; Chapman said. &uot;It was a family decision to run for statewide office, to even get into it at all.

&uot;We’ve dealt with (the challenges) just as we’ve dealt with my husband’s job and with our children’s education,&uot; she said.

There are several events which stand out to Chapman when talking about her first year in office.

First, she said, is the Campaign for Accountability.

Chapman began the campaign along with her office staff to begin to address the &uot;enormous amount of government waste&uot; in Alabama.

&uot;We’ve made a concerted effort not to spend what we don’t have, not to buy what we don’t need and to take care of what we own in my office and branching out to other areas of government,&uot; she said.

In one case, her campaign received a tip that a government agency was not going to bid a contract, when legally it was required to be bid.

She made that agency aware that its actions were being discussed and the contract was bid.

&uot;That saved the taxpayers millions of dollars,&uot; she said. &uot;That’s what the Campaign for Accountability is for.&uot;

Chapman said her office has received hundreds of tips regarding wastes through the tip number, 1-800-448-9278, and the internet, www.stopwaste.net.

Another event that stands out for Chapman is the &uot;speech heard round the world.&uot;

She was invited to speak at a patriotic rally at the Pelham Civic Center alongside former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.

That speech apparently touched thousands as Chapman began receiving mail and email from military supporters and naysayers alike.

She even received a number of heartwarming emails from the front lines in Iraq, she said.

&uot;Those are the ones that have meant the most to me,&uot; Chapman said.

As a proponent of the military during her year in office, Chapman was also the first to request the governor make changes to existing election laws that would allow military personnel who are Alabama voters to vote during last September’s historic election.

&uot;It was the largest tax increase in Alabama’s history, and our military who were stationed abroad were not allowed to vote,&uot; she said. &uot;It just was not fair to them, especially considering they are sacrificing for our freedom.

&uot;It is my hope that the request was taken seriously and something positive will eventually come from that.&uot;

Another bit of legislation that Chapman is working hard to create is the &uot;You Lose You Pay&uot; legislation.

&uot;This would hold agencies in Alabama more accountable and stop the $2 million in property losses accrued each year in our state,&uot; she said.

Chapman indicated she expects this legislation to be introduced at the upcoming session in February.

Her work to cut waste as Alabama’s state auditor can not be questioned even as there are moves by other officials and members of the legislature to abolish the office of state auditor.

&uot;I believe the office of state auditor is a major office of accountability in this state,&uot; she said, a state which has long been known for its lack of accountability.

&uot;It does not answer to the legislature &045; only to the people. If the people ever vote to abolish the office of state auditor, I will do everything in my power to make that happen.

&uot;Until that time, however, I recognize that no one wants to invest millions in property all over the state just to have it ‘lost’ by the agencies,&uot; she said. &uot;I will complete my term until the people tell me otherwise.&uot;

And during that time, Chapman said, she is proud of the fact that her office is being run on the tightest budget in its history, just over $500,000 per year while auditing $1.6 billion in property across the state per term.

&uot;I was the only elected official to gladly accept an 18 percent cut; because I knew, and I said, that the people did not want any new taxes,&uot; she said.

&uot;I’m a taxpayer, too. I’d rather sacrifice than demand higher taxes.&uot;