What is accountability?
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 27, 2004
Accountability is a personal and professional value; it is not something you propose.
It is not a legislative agenda item to be brought up once each year, and then forgotten.
Accountability is something a person either has or wants or doesn’t.
Accountability is a measurable thing.
I’m embarrassed to say there has been little accountability in state government in the past. That fact was one of the main reasons I ran for public office &045; to do my part to bring more accountability to government.
Last Thursday, the Democratic state legislators held a press conference to say they were demanding accountability. As state auditor, I welcome their demand for accountability, as that is what I’ve been preaching and living in my office since first elected by the people in November 2002 and before.
As part of their plan, the Democratic legislators announced they would like to abolish the office of state auditor &045; the very office of accountability.
My rebuttal to that is simple: If that is what the taxpayers of this state, both Democrat and Republican want, I’ll be happy to oblige them. However, I find it hard to believe that the taxpayers want any other single part of their government, no matter how big or small to be turned over to the legislature.
This is especially true of the state auditor they elect to manage the office of accountability and protect their $1.6 billion of investments via property assets.
Last year, I began a Campaign for Accountability to involve Alabama taxpayers in their government. I set up a website, www.stopwaste.net, and reinitiated a toll-free phone number (1-800-448-9273) for them to voice their complaints. Anyone want to guess what their number one complaint was?
Various actions of the Alabama legislature, or lack thereof. That body as a whole is the No. 1 reason that the taxpayers of this state have no confidence in their government. Granted, there are many fine, upstanding individuals in the legislature, but the body as a whole has little respect from the people it represents.
For people to respond to leadership, they must have confidence in that leadership. So at this point, after a failed lottery proposal and a failed tax increase proposal, we find ourselves at the crossroads of a nearly bankrupt, often corrupt government with a no vote of confidence from the very people who it was intended to serve.
Accountability should no longer be used as a diversion but rather a tool by which to measure and run good government.
Accountability is not something you say; it’s something you are, something you possess, something you strive toward.
A person or group is either accountable or they’re not. The state auditor’s office is accountable to the people it serves and the people who elected the auditor &045; not the legislature. The Examiners of Public Accounts answers to the legislature &045; not the people. This group of Democratic legislators has announced they support the examiner’s office but desire to abolish the auditor’s office. Imagine that.
I would be remiss as a taxpaying citizen not to point out that it is not the state auditor’s office that has failed in the past to balance a state budget. It is not the state auditor’s office that has allowed this state to go into proration or failed to create safer, better highways and bridges. It is not the state auditor’s office that has given us the education system we have today or the problems we face with DHR or Medicaid.
It is not the state auditor who has squandered millions of taxpayer’s dollars on special pork projects. The state auditor’s office does not manage those issues; the state legislature does.
And while I represent all of the people in this state, regardless of political party affiliation, I would also be remiss if I failed to point out that the Democrats have been in control of the governor’s office in this state for 88 of the past 100 years and the legislature for an even greater number of years.
So I ask you, where is accountability needed the most? As my grandmother used to say, &uot;You should sweep out from under your own door steps, before you sweep out from under your neighbor’s.&uot;
I have been warned that any comments I would make to this degree might encourage certain powerful legislators to change the proposed date of abolishing the auditor’s office from 2010 to present day.
And that’s quite all right with me since it’s not my office anyway; it’s the office of &uot;the people.&uot; So if the people want it abolished, I will gladly help them accomplish that goal in the most efficient, effective way possible.
However, I will not relinquish the people’s office of state auditor to the Alabama legislature unless the people tell me to do so.
In the meantime, I will continue to practice accountability in the state auditor’s office, and I encourage many members of the state legislature to get a broom and start sweeping.
Beth Chapman serves as Alabama state auditor. She and her husband, James, and two sons, Taylor and Thatcher, have a home in North Shelby County