When you clean the house as things warm up in the spring, you often find things—dust bunnies and other unsavory creatures—hiding under the couch and in the closets.
Things are no different in government. Analysts at the Show-Me Institute spend a lot of time combing through reports and audits, and as I looked through the state auditor’s 50 or so reports for this year, I found a whole lot of dust bunnies—nasty, government failure dust bunnies.
Of the reports that received a judgment (about half of the reports are follow-ups or monthly postings without a judgment), half enjoyed “excellent” and “good” results, while the other half received “fair” and “poor” marks. In short, about 50% of the public entities audited weren’t doing a great job by any stretch of the imagination.
For context, here is how the SAO defines “Fair” and “Poor”:
Fair: The audit results indicate this entity needs to improve operations in several areas. The report contains several findings, or one or more findings that require management's immediate attention, and/or the entity has indicated several recommendations will not be implemented. In addition, if applicable, several prior recommendations have not been implemented.
Poor: The audit results indicate this entity needs to significantly improve operations. The report contains numerous findings that require management's immediate attention, and/or the entity has indicated most recommendations will not be implemented. In addition, if applicable, most prior recommendations have not been implemented.
Now, this all is a little abstract, so let’s consider some examples.
The City of Hamilton, the subject of SAO Report No. 2019-007, received a rating of “Fair.” For what exactly? Well, among other things, for lacking a road maintenance plan, for failing to stop conflicts of interest, for not following basic payment procedures, for not complying with Missouri’s Sunshine Law, for not giving the public library its money on time, and for failing to put its budget together in a proper way. So, while ‘fair’ might not sound so terrible, it is a long shot from being acceptable.
More troubling reports come from places like the City of Miller and Madison County.
In Miller, west of Springfield, the city raised taxes for water treatment services but still can’t pay its bills, and has violated the state’s Clean Water Act. Basic timesheet procedures weren’t followed, city credit cards were not adequately tracked, the city’s budget wasn’t put together according to the law and was inaccurate, and the city hasn’t complied with the Sunshine Law. Most troubling is that the former police used city credit cards for personal expenses and kept his brother on the city’s payroll while he was working another job.
In Madison County, in southeast Missouri, where an investigation is ongoing, it appears taxpayers would pay their property taxes and then records of the payment would be deleted from county systems. The money from these transactions appears to have never made it to the bank. In short, it looks as if taxpayer money was being flat out stolen. Bad government? I think so.
With 114 counties, nearly 1,000 cities and villages, and thousands of other public entities across the state, bad government is a constant and ubiquitous problem. A liberty-minded skepticism of government seems warranted when reports like these make news.