Mary Mosiman still distancing herself from oversight failure

State Auditor Mary Mosiman continues to defend her failure to ask tough questions as an ex officio member of the board that was supposed to oversee the scandal-plagued Iowa Communications Network.

Mosiman had a spotty attendance record for meetings of the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission, which didn’t notice “misspending, cronyism and self-dealing” at ICN for years. Whistleblowers came forward last summer, prompting a special investigation that led to the firing of three top officials.

During a recent meeting with state lawmakers, Mosiman contended she had no reason to believe the ICN was being mismanaged and indicated she didn’t see her board role as relevant to her job as state auditor. She also revealed she hadn’t been aware that voting members were paid to serve on the technology commission, even though their salaries were written into Iowa Code.

Mosiman spoke to members of the legislature’s Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee on February 1. Most of her presentation related to the budget of the State Auditor’s office. State Senator Liz Mathis, the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, also inquired about Mosiman’s work on the Iowa Telecommunications and Technology Commission.

Democratic candidate for state auditor Rob Sand attended the hearing and provided this video clip to Bleeding Heartland.

Mathis began with an open-ended question about whether the auditor “might have seen something, or didn’t see, or your attendance at those meetings. Do you want to talk about that?”

Mosiman’s answer was startling.

I can. I’m an ex officio, non-voting member. Those meetings are run by the director [of the Iowa Communications Network]. There are five voting members that are clearly management of the commission. I have no knowledge how the state auditor got on that board in the first place. We’ve talked about that a little bit, because obviously, technology, telecommunications, that’s not the expertise–and, our role is to be the state auditor. So our role is making sure that their audit gets done.

But that being said, if you’ve ever looked at what gets provided at those meetings, if you’ve ever looked their agendas or the packet of information, you would see it’s basically reports from the different divisions. There’s the one budget report which is your monthly compared to your actual. There’s no verification of monthly expenditures. There’s no payroll expenditures.

So the board–when I first joined, the way it was operating, it continued–it’s, that’s how it is currently operating today. And that’s one thing very clear in my report, is the board does not operate as oversight, the board operates as advisory, as most boards do in the state of Iowa.

But that being said, it should be something that the General Assembly looks at: do they want that board to be advisory, or do they want that board to be oversight, given how the agency itself has changed over the years.

“I have no knowledge how the state auditor got on that board in the first place”? It’s right there in the Iowa Code chapter that created the telecommunications and technology commission in 1994: “In addition to the members appointed by the governor, the auditor of state or the auditor’s designee shall serve as a nonvoting, ex officio member of the commission.”

Mosiman views her job narrowly as leader of the office charged with completing an annual audit of every state agency. But Iowa lawmakers didn’t give the auditor a seat on dozens of boards and commissions operating under other state agencies. They specifically wanted the auditor to serve on this board, which has “the sole authority to supervise the management, development, and operation” of the ICN. Some critics have viewed the fiber-optic system as a boondoggle from the beginning, which may be why the General Assembly anticipated a need for additional oversight.

Whereas Mosiman distinguished her position from the “five voting members that are clearly management of the commission,” lawmakers intended for the auditor or her designee to have some responsibility to ICN beyond completing its annual audit. Ex officio members can participate in board discussions and governance, even if they are unable to vote. Why did Mosiman settle for reports that didn’t verify monthly expenditures or payroll?

The auditor did not respond to multiple requests for comment and clarification. Her challenger criticized the auditor last month for missing ICN commission meetings and asking few questions when she did attend. Sand told Bleeding Heartland this week,

Iowans deserve better than a State Auditor who fails to do the basic job duties, and on top of that, then complains that it shouldn’t be her job anyway. When I was assigned a new case at the AG’s [Attorney General’s] office, I didn’t say ‘why me? Can’t you give it to someone else?’ I just did my job.”

There’s no limitation on her ability to ask questions and require answers, which could have stopped this before it started. When other prosecutors in Area Prosecutions wanted help on a case, I didn’t tell them no just because it wasn’t assigned to me. I jumped in.

The next part of the back-and-forth was remarkable as well.

Mathis: I was really surprised that they were paid.

Mosiman: So was I, yeah.

Mathis: Fifteen thousand [dollars] to something–did you know that, when you sat?

Mosiman: No, no.

Mathis: You didn’t? Oh my goodness.

Mosiman: No.

Did the auditor ever read the Iowa Code section establishing the board she served on? The salaries of technology commission voting members are spelled out in 8D.3(2)(c).

The buck passing continued:

Mathis: OK. And so, I mean, I look at that as, if you’re being paid, you should be very involved in something like that, and be asking for certain types of reports. I mean, their commissioners or their board members should have been asking for deeper spreadsheets or something like that. I would think that would be part of their duty, their fiscal duty.

Mosiman: Which is why we put that recommendation in our report.

Mathis: Did you at any time when you were an ex officio, when you came on to the board and you kind of looked at these, did you consider making that recommendation as the auditor?

Mosiman: Remember, the commission was functioning a long time before I got there. And once I did get there, there’s a member of the Attorney General’s office sitting at most every meeting. There’s lawyers who sit on the commission as members. I had no reason to believe it was functioning in any way other than it was supposed to, so until–but again, my role being the state auditor, my obligation is the state audit of each and every state agency.

“Our report” refers to the special audit released in January. But if a health problem hadn’t kept then executive director Ric Lumbard out of the office for an extended period last summer, his subordinates might never have blown the whistle about his pattern of unnecessary travel, hiring unqualified staffers, and buying equipment his agency didn’t need. Routine, annual audits did not and probably never would have uncovered the malfeasance at ICN.

Why didn’t Mosiman seek more details about ICN’s operations? She didn’t reply to my e-mails. Sand commented, “The courage to ask questions and demand additional information is probably the most basic qualification for being State Auditor. When I was prosecuting a case and had a person who refused to answer questions, I didn’t just give up. I made them want to answer them to get me off their back. Taxpayers deserve someone who’ll stand up for them.”

He had this to say about Mosiman explaining that she had “no reason to believe” there were any management problems: “As Assistant Attorney General, when I saw that my Division did not have a shared bank of legal filings that we could all access and share to work more efficiently, I didn’t just accept that. I started one. And I never, ever, just let someone else’s judgment take the place of me doing my job myself.”

Top image: State Auditor Mary Mosiman answers a question from State Senator Liz Mathis during a February 1 appearance before the Iowa legislature’s Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee.

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.