April 2, 2015

John Dougall for Utah State Auditor

Growing up the oldest of eleven, it’s no surprise that John Dougall (campaign site here) has a frugal streak to him. In fact, it’s more than a campaign slogan, says his sister Julie.

In fact, family legend has it that John has worn the same shoes since his mission, she says. “they are so old, they’ve come back in style… Since they are quite beat up, he just wears them like house slippers, but he still wears them, all the time.”

For a guy who has made the auditor’s race interesting for the first time in decades–if it ever was before–it’s believable. With the help of his wife, Sandy, whose creativity Dougall says  responsible for the funny and creative campaign material his campaign has produced, John has put together what is arguably both the most interesting and the most policy heavy campaign this year. If you haven’t noticed, then you’ve been living under a rock somewhere.

Whether it’s his radio ads that riff off the Dos Equis meme (“John Dougall is the most frugal man in the world…his car not only stops on a dime, it picks it up, too”) or creative posters and pictures featuring tough looking dogs hunting for waste (because Dougall will be a “watch dog” with the tax payers dollars…) or the Geico gecko telling how Dougall will save money.

Speaking of the gecko, if John Dougall has his way then your fifteen minutes voting for him at the ballot box will save our state money, too.

All slogans and advertising aside, John has a solid campaign, strong support from legislative leaders like Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups (and every CPA in the legislature), and a plan that really could transform how the auditors office does business.

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Recently, I asked John why he was running for state auditor. First, he said, he wants people to know that we have a state auditor.

Under the state constitution, the Utah state Auditor is supposed perform financial post audits and any other duties ascribed under statute.

Over the years, those duties have changed (in 1996 and 2003, for example) and have largely expanded over the years.  John believes that the auditor’s office should “step-up”  compliance and performance audits to assure government is working the way it’s supposed to.  “The state auditor is supposed to be [an] independent, early warning system,” says Dougall.  The expansion from performing merely financial post audits to a compliance and performance is because “more and more elected officials have wanted it to be that officer” who keeps an eye on government.

While John Dougall is not a CPA, he is quick to point out that he is an MBA, and that not only are most state auditors MBAs, but there’s a good reason to have an MBA running the office over a CPA. The Auditor’s position is one of management, in addition to audit, and Dougall’s degree covers both.

While he acknowledges that government is not business, Dougall argues that auditing principles are the same.  In business, “managerial accounting” is a very important function of auditors. It’s a highly competitive market, and it should be same with government. “When there is concern about fiscal matters, we gotta figure out how to save money,” says Dougall.

And the current auditor is not keeping the office competitive?

“To be blunt,” he says, “the running joke is that he has been retired in office for ten years. Austin Johnson put it this way recently in Tooele: ‘the heavily lifting is done; we’re in maintenance mode.’ His philosophy is now to just  ‘mow the lawn and trim the bushes.’ On the contrary, the heavy lifting in defense of the taxpayer is never done.”

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 If the heavy lifting for the taxpayer is never done, then, what will John do to keep the load lifted?  Dougall says he has both short-term and longer term objectives.

Short-term objectives:

  1. Rebuild a relationship with elected officials. The auditors’ office has been damaged over recent years due to failures the legislature sees stemming largely from lax oversight during Austin Johnson’s terms in office. For example, the scandal that recently rocked the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control could have been avoided. The auditor’s office wrote a memo on the problems–15 years ago– but nothing else. 1995. John says he would have come back after 90 days to re-audit. to see if the problem had been solved.
  2. Institute an office policy of re-auditing when a report shows a problem. After ninety days, come back and check again. “Nip a problem in the bud instead of allowing it to fest and become a serious issue,” says Dougall.
  3. Training for local officials and government employees. In the past, training is offered at conferences, but it’s not always timely.  Dougall would put training online, test trainees, and raise competancy before habits are formed.

Long term objectives:

  1. Do a better job assessing risk to taxpayers. Dougall says that the auditor’s office needs to perform more compliance audits to determine whether there is serious risk and then prioritize resources accordingly.
  2. Institute performance (aka “efficiency”) audits. The legislature is “begging for more data upon which to make decisions,” says Dougall. “It’s also the reason so many legislators, and every CPA in the legislature, supports.” He chuckles. “They call me a budget proctologist over there.”
  3. Leverage technology to help improve audit oversight and performance. For example, Dougall says, take purchase cards. Right now the state looks at usage six to nine months ago to determine performance. We should institute a real-time, algorithm to watch how things are being used and allow for continuous, automated audit.
  4. Map data for the public to follow and watch. Make it more transparent.
  5. Share accounting systems with interested cities. Identify whether there opportunities for cities to share accounting systems. Voluntary, it would make better accounting software available through the pooling of resources.
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My take?

For a race that is usually quiet and uncompetitive, John Dougall has proven to be a disruptive element that may lead to positive change. Elections are voters only opportunity to weigh-in directly on elected officials’ performance, and the auditor’s office has managed to dodge that bullet for too long. Austin Johnson has never really had another perspective than his office. Before he was appointed and then reelected successively to his position for 17 years, he was an employee of the state auditor’s office. All told, he’s worked in the Auditor’s office his entire career.  It’s hard to expect anything new from a career bureaucrat with no incentive to innovate or improve his performance.

What galls me most is his attitude that “the heavy lifting is done.”  When more than ever citizens are examining the role and cost of big government, our elected officials should be actively doing the same. Now is not the time to set Utah on cruise control.

It’s time for a new look at how business is done. It’s time for John Dougall for Utah State Auditor.

 

A Non-Sexy Way to Cut Government Spending

Zachary Derr is an attorney working at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. In his spare time he enjoys great food, skiing and rubbing shoulders with low-lifes on the disc golf course.

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Speculating on ways to save taxpayer money and curb the national debt has become a bit of a national pastime. The right wants to cut “entitlement spending” and the left has their sights set on defense and tax loopholes. Everyone agrees that we should do something. We’re stuck with lots of rhetoric, line drawing and politicians who largely maintain the status quo.

State and local governments are also slashing budgets and cutting back essential public services to save money. I would like to propose an idea that is not original and won’t solve the national debt. It’s simple, has been tried and tested and may even help our obesity epidemic. The idea: turn up the thermostats in government buildings in the summer. That’s it.

During law school I worked as an intern at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. My cubicle was underneath an air conditioning vent and I found many excuses to walk around and get warm. I eventually did what others in the office did: brought a sweater. Wearing a sweater indoors in August in Washington, D.C. struck me as totally absurd. I would leave my arctic cave at the office and enter the sweltering D.C. summer heat, dripping in sweat after my bike ride home. Other folks in the office had space heaters to keep warm. Space heaters are expensive; air conditioning is expensive. Who foots the bill? We do! Would you leave all the windows in your house open in the winter and turn on a space heater? In fact, sales of space heaters across America rise during the summer, to keep chilled office workers warm under the oppressive flood of artificially cold air.

Could we as Americans sacrifice our beloved suit coats and ties for the bottom line? Japan is a conservative society where businessmen have been rumored to mow the lawn in dark suits. Japan has turned the thermostats in office buildings up to around 82 degrees in the summer and convinced the businessmen to trade in their dark suits for short-sleeved shirts. If Japan can do it, we can too. As an employee of the State of Utah, I would gladly ditch my tie and change to a short-sleeved shirt in the summer. I think the public would forgive government buildings being a little warm and having a more relaxed appearance, knowing that they were saving money.

In fact, seeing the President and Congress dawning short-sleeved shirts during the summer would show the American people that our elected officials are willing and able to do the very thing we want: make sacrifices to pull together for the benefit of the nation.

If the federal government and state and local governments turned up the thermostats in government buildings to around 82 degrees during June, July, August and September and allowed employees to dress down a bit during those months, the government would save millions, if not billions of dollars on electric bills.

My Pick for Salt Lake County Mayor: Mark Crockett, Because Experience Matters

Mark Crockett’s real world experience saving companies billions of dollars and proven conservative record serving the public trust has earned him my support for Salt Lake County Mayor.

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Last week, this blog asked how much you know about your local elected officials. We get worked up about federal mandates and the national politics, but how many of us know who or much about the city or county council members that represent you here?

Cable news is full of what’s going on in Washington, D.C., but what do you know about what’s going on in City Hall?

Ironically, the skill-set for a Mayor is probably more important than that of the legislators we send back to D.C. as Congressmen and Senators. Where legislators job is to  pass laws, the job of the Mayor is, ostensibly, to manage people, zoning, utilities, facilities, and parks. There are many legislators, but there is only one mayor. The mistakes of one may be moderated by other Congressmen, but the management decisions of a Mayor are not so easy to fix or check.  And, because a Mayor’s job is more management based, it is, in many ways, a more dull and more important job.

Very important.  How the Mayor does his job impacts people daily. The roads we drive on, the sewers we need for basic public health and sanitation, the fleet of plows that issue forth as snow begins to fall, the parks and rec centers where we exercise and play, and more are the responsibility of a mayor, be it city or county. Police, fire, garbage disposal, and tree trimming, too. This is the government that we interact with daily, whether we notice it or not, and it matters. If Washington, D.C. disappeared tomorrow, it might take a few weeks or months before we see the impact, but if the police or fire or garbage trucks were gone, we would feel it immediately.

Who we elect to manage these things matters. It’s not a job for the smooth talker or the well-meaning ideologue. It’s not a position that should be learned on the job, either. The best of intentions won’t make a payroll of thousands, manage a budget of millions, efficiently allocate resources, or improve customer service and employee morale. Those are skills that must be learned over time, through experience.

That’s why my pick for the Salt Lake County Mayor’s race is Mark Crockett.  He already has that experience. Instead of making a career out of politics, Mark has made a career out of fixing large organizations. He brings people from all parts of the organization to the table and with them finds the places that money can be saved and efficiency improved. Whether it is large Fortune 500 companies like Bank of America or government agencies like the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Mark has been saving companies $10 billion a year throughout his career.

That’s money saved not through cutting staffs and salaries, but through improving efficiency, removing bottlenecks, and cutting out waste. Instead, that money can be reallocated to help the organization carry out its mission.

We are not talking about small businesses, either, but large organizations of as many as 180,000 employees. With an organization as large as Salt Lake County government, with 4,400 employees and an annual budget around $750 million, that kind of experience matters. It’s not a “learn on the job” position.

Will he–can he–do what he promises? 

Mark Crockett has made it clear that he will cut $40 million from Salt Lake County’s budget, or about 20% of the Mayor’s budget. That’s substantial. From 2005 to 2008, Mark served on the Salt Lake County Council, a part-time position. During that time, Mark proposed smaller budgets each year, and when the economy began to tank in 2008, he fought to cut 10% from the budget. As he said at the time, if families and businesses are tightening their belt, then government should, too.

No other candidate for Mayor has been in that position and proposed such dramatic cuts. He’s already proven he can walk the talk. It’s why the Salt Lake Tribune endorsed him in 2008:

“Efficient government” is a recurring theme when Salt Lake County Councilman Mark Crockett talks about his goals […] And he’s proven it’s more than a campaign motto.

Crockett, a Republican, is careful with taxpayer dollars, a wise approach as the county faces a shortfall in revenue brought on by the national slide into recession. He has worked to reform the county budgeting procedure to emphasize cost savings and better use of funds to streamline county government.

His four years experience on the council, his background as a principal with an investment fund and his council leadership positions, combined with his innate analytical skills, make him the better choice to represent District 4, which includes Millcreek, Emigration Canyon and much of the east bench.

Cutting the budget wasn’t all that Mark Crockett worked towards while on the County Council. He also spearheaded and passed ethics reforms that ended nepotism in county government. He voted against, repeatedly, subsidies for big capital projects such as the soccer stadium, and against creating special classes of individuals with special rights.  Mark worked to help unrepresented areas of the County, the unincorporated areas, to get what they need. (There may not be another candidate who understands as Mark does the issues facing unincorporated Salt Lake County and the need for a plan to prepare for the future).

It’s the record of a proven conservative, and it is born of real experience, not just practiced talking points.  Mark Crockett won’t jump ship to run for another office, but will put the public interest first. He won’t fudge the truth or mislead voters.

It’s a record that I am sure his rivals envy (and, frankly, that they’ve started to imitate his ideas in their comments says a lot about what they think of him). Most important, it’s a record the Salt Lake County needs.  It’s a record that has earned him my support and endorsement for County Mayor.

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Do you know your local elected officials?

Quiet Street in Holladay, Utah

Quiet Street in Holladay, Utah (Photo credit: Ken Lund)

Lately, I’ve been involved with a campaign that could be classified as “down ticket.” It’s not a for the US Senate or for Congress, Governor or the state legislature. It’s not even for attorney general. It’s the Salt Lake County mayor’s race, and it’s “down” the “ticket” from all of those higher profile races, even if it deals with issues near and dear to all of us.

Indeed, it may deal with stuff that we use a lot more often than some of those other offices in higher profile races. For example: libraries, rec centers, parks, snow plows, mental services, and even jails.

All of that, and more, falls under the responsibility of the Salt Lake County government. In a county that has shifted over the last few decades from rural to urban and from orchards (my neck of the woods) and horse property to wall-to-wall cities, county government has seen a lot of changes as cities have grown and expanded, bring government closer to the people.

Interestingly, though, I find few that understand or know what the county does. A few weeks back, Utah held caucus meetings to select delegates to attend county and state conventions. As we left, having just selected state and county delegates, I realized that we had spent the majority of the time discussing and debating federal issues related to the senate campaign. Some mention was made of the gubernatorial race, but only in passing. By the time we had gotten around to selecting county delegates–the ones who would select the Republican nominee  for county mayor–we were near to the end of the second hour and folks wanted to leave. Selected to be a county delegate myself, I shook hands with a neighbor who had also been selected and asked him his thoughts. His reply was revealing.

“I don’t really know what the county does,” he said. “I don’t have any idea.”

It turns out that his experience was not unique. As I have spoken with a number of delegates, very few know much about how the county works or what it does.

Do you?

As I thought about it, I realized that but for my involvement in the mayoral race, I’m not sure I would know much either. How about my city? I live in Holladay, but I couldn’t name a single member of the city council or the mayor if I was pressed.

Could there be something to this disconnect? Ask me about any number of congressmen, senators, agency heads, or even generals of the Army, and I feel like I’d be comfortable talking about them, even those with no connection to Utah. But bring up the local school board, principal of the high school (I just found out last week that he lives around the corner from me), or city council, and I’d be almost clueless.

Is it any wonder that we are so willing to turn to Washington, D.C. for solutions to problems instead of looking here in our own backyard? Is it any wonder we turn to the federal government for a solution for healthcare rather than just looking to our state governments?

I don’t know if there’s a connection, but I can’t help but wonder.

Connection or not, I’ll tell you one thing: tomorrow I’m going to look up my city council and mayor and try to learn a little about them.

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What can be learned from the White House visitor lists?

I wonder: what can we learn about the Obama White House from his visitors?

Does it matter who the President invites into the West Wing for a personal visit with himself, staff, and policy makers? Democrats sure thought it did when the Bush Administration was meeting with oil executives, and the Obama Administration has been slow to release the visitor logs during their own tenure in the White House. That tells me that they care, too, who they are seen with in their offices.

So here are the visitor logs, released over the weekend. What do you find interesting in them?

 

I haven’t had time to look through these very much yet, but I did notice a couple of things: if you organize by oldest entries first, two names (among others) that pop out are Jeffery Imelt and Bill Ayers.

What did you notice when you looked through the list?

[Michelle Malkin]

What is do you think the state is for?

“The state is the great fiction by which everybody tries to live at the expense of everybody else.” Frederic Bastiat

Discuss.

Thoughts on “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward

Cover of "Obama's Wars"

Cover of Obama's Wars

I just finished “Obama’s Wars” by Bob Woodward. I don’t know that I feel ready to review a book by Woodward, but I do have some thoughts after reading it. [Read more…]