State of Iowa Auditor Rob Sand visits Waukon Friday as part of his annual 99-county tour

State of Iowa Auditor Rob Sand makes visit to Waukon ... State of Iowa Auditor Rob Sand addressed a crowd gathered at the Waukon City Park Friday afternoon, July 23 as part of a 99-county tour he tries to conduct each year. Auditor Sand updated those in attendance on what his State of Iowa Auditor Office has been up to this past year and also answered questions from the public in regard to a variety of matters. Standard photo by Joe Moses.

by Joe Moses

A town hall meeting with Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand was held Friday, July 23 in the Waukon City Park as part of Sand’s annual 99-County tour, an effort to hear from Iowans in each county across the state. Sand provided a brief introduction discussing the format of the meeting, explaining that the meeting’s focus would primarily be on questions from those in attendance and, time permitting, an update from his office relating to a variety of matters at the State level.

Allamakee County Democrats co-chairperson Karen Pratte questioned Sand about Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and her recent decision to have Iowa State Patrol officers assist with border operations at the United States and Mexico border in Texas. She specifically discussed concerns relating to expenses associated with this decision and whether Iowa tax payers will be responsible for paying for this expense.

Sand provided some background on the matter by noting that this effort is legal and that an interstate compact or agreement is in place between all 50 states and their respective governors to provide assistance under the assumption that a state requesting assistance will provide reimbursement, with that compact also allowing states that provide services to forgive that debt. Sand explained that there is interest from the public and legislators relating to the specific costs involved in providing this assistance with a decision to audit the matter yet to be determined. Sand advised that on the front end, the legality of the decision is not in question, but other questions may be asked as this assistance concludes relating to whether this was a wise decision or that funds were spent appropriately.

Bernard Pratte introduced another topic for discussion by mentioning an Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board review of potential violations of Iowa’s self-promotion law by Governor Reynolds. Bernard Pratte shared that Reynolds appeared in advertisements as part of a campaign encouraging the use of facemasks during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, with the use of COVID-19 relief funds being a potential violation.

Sand provided an overview of the facts associated with this matter currently under review. Sand advised that Reynolds had signed a statute in 2018 that restricts statewide elected officials from placing themselves in advertisements paid with taxpayer funds under their control as an elected official. Sand elaborated that Reynolds chose to spend $500,000 on a video promoting facemask wearing with $150,000 of that amount used for paid advertising with Reynolds appearing in the video. Sand clarified that he supports the use of facemasks but this type of advertising needs to be done legally and that this advertising was done contrary to the statute Reynolds signed into law, with the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board continuing to review the matter.

John Ellingson of Waukon discussed some positive trends relating to accountability following Sand’s election as Iowa State Auditor. Ellingson commented, “I’ve worked for the State for 24 years and this is the first time bureaucrats and middle management are scared of your office.”

Sand briefly discussed managed care organizations (MCO) and noted that a compliance audit is ongoing. Sand commented that in a time of such political divide, it’s notable that only six percent of medical professionals providing care to Medicaid patients believe that access to care has improved under MCOs and only nine percent believe that quality of care has improved, indicating that a majority believe that it has gotten worse under privatization.

Sand moved into discussion of the State’s PIE Program, which he explained stands for Public Innovations and Efficiencies Program. Sand described the program as promoting cost savings and stretching tax payer dollars through money saving practices at the local and county level. Sand discussed that a PIE chart checklist is sent out the first year with responses made public to show what offices are doing to save money, with the PIE chart being sent out again the second year with participating offices and departments then added to the PIE contest.

Sand added that PIE contest winners are recognized for their great ideas and will be brought pie to eat as Sand travels to their communities. Sand described the program as not being about politics but rather public service and positive accountability in addition to being about sharing PIE recipes where offices and departments across the state benefit from good ideas while giving credit where credit is due. Sand recognized several Allamakee County PIE contest participants with submissions from Allamakee County, the Allamakee County Attorney’s Office, City of New Albin and City of Postville.

Sand also talked about the past year as being a difficult time with the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that 750 restaurants across the state closed their doors and are no longer paying taxes or creating jobs. Sand discussed that the pandemic relief funds used for Work Day, the accounting and human resources software for State government authorized by Governor Reynolds, could have provided a $50,000 grant for 400 of those restaurants and likely provided an opportunity for their business operations to continue through the pandemic.

Prior to conclusion of the meeting, Sand responded to a question relating to whether he has political aspirations beyond his current role as Iowa State Auditor. Sand replied that he likes his job and the role the Iowa State Auditor performs, which includes looking into the work and decisions of other elected officials and holding them accountable.