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Stray Thoughts

That’s our tax money being frittered away

2/6/2018

It’s nothing short of a miracle that the people of Iowa have not taken up pitchforks and marched on Des Moines demanding the attention of government officials.

As things now stand, don’t be surprised if the folks in charge simply wait for the dust to settle and then get back to business.

But Iowans should not let that happen. They should vent their frustrations to their elected officials with this business-as-usual attitude — this very expensive business-as-usual attitude that is frittering away our tax money.

Consider the recent news out of our state and you can understand why some of us are sputtering like old pickup trucks:

HEADLINE #1 — A special state audit this month found that the executive director of the Iowa Communications Network, a state government entity created in 1989 with taxpayers’ money, had misspent nearly $380,000 on himself, a few of his friends and a religious ministry he operates out of his home.

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Why should you be frustrated?

The official, Richard Lumbard, was able to fleece the taxpayers for several years because his bosses, a five-member state commission appointed by the governor and paid for by taxpayers, was nothing short of inept.

The Iowa Communications Network is not like most government boards and commissions, whose members volunteer to serve their state. Members of the network’s governing board are paid substantial salaries — $13,857 each for four of the members; $19,632 for the chairman — to compensate them for attending the commission’s 12 meetings a year.

But there’s more. State Auditor Mary Mosiman, who promotes her office as the taxpayers’ watchdog, serves as non-voting member of the commission. But the watchdog wasn’t watching any closer than the five commissioners were.

Among the things Mosiman and the commissioners missed: Lumbard used a state car to commute back and forth between his home in Marion and his office in Des Moines. He purchased two semi-trailers filled with used video production gear, had those delivered to his home, and then began selling the equipment on eBay with the proceeds never reaching the government. He also gave state jobs to associates of his Wind and Fire Ministries.

All of this came to light not because of the commission but because when Lumbard was on medical leave after suffering a heart attack, employees went to the auditor with their concerns.

HEADLINE #2 — The Waukee School District last week agreed to pay its former human resources director $985,000 to avoid a lawsuit over his dismissal.

Why should you be frustrated?

The school district insists that officials did nothing improper when they eliminated Terry Welker’s job. But Welker contended his job was eliminated to get rid of him because he had blown the whistle on the district’s chief operating officer, Eric Rose, for multiple instances of official misconduct. 

Rose was accused of keeping a school snowblower at his home for eight months to “test it out.” He used school tables and chairs at his home and a school generator at a tailgate party. He falsified employee time cards to give them extra pay for running personal errands for him, and he used school email to solicit donations for his son’s youth hockey team from school vendors.

After the allegations came to light, after the current superintendent expressed concern over employees’ “tattling,” and after an internal investigation found the allegations against Rose to be true, the school board responded with a 6 percent pay raise for Rose.

That’s the same school board that decided last week it was wise to pay Welker $985,000 to avoid a lawsuit. It remains to be seen what the school board will do with two other lawsuits filed by employees who were fired after reporting Rose’s conduct to administrators.

HEADLINE #3 — The taxpayers of Iowa had to pay a $1.75 million settlement to the former communications director for Republican members of the Iowa Senate. Kirsten Anderson was fired in 2013 just hours after she complained to Senate Republican leaders about sexual harassment at work. The settlement was negotiated after a Polk County court jury returned a $2.2 million verdict in her favor last July following a week-long trial.

Why should you be frustrated?

All of the Republican staff members in the Senate ultimately answer to Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, a Shell Rock Republican. Although all Iowans had to pay for the settlement, Dix was not punished for permitting the toxic work environment to exist.

But like Waukee Superintendent Cindi McDonald, Waukee schools official Eric Rose, and Iowa Communications Network commissioners Richard Bruner of Ventura, Bob Holz of Clive, Kathleen Kohorst of Harlan, Kelly Dolan Lange of Independence and Timothy Lapointe of Mason City, they all get to keep their government paychecks coming in.

Why should all Iowans be frustrated by this?

All of us are paying taxes and hoping government uses our tax money wisely. But as the recent headlines demonstrate, that is not always occurring.

Why?

That’s the question hard-working Iowans should be asking Senator Dix and the Iowa Senate Republicans, the state auditor, the Iowa Communications Network commission members, and officials of the Waukee School District. ♦

Randy Evans can be reached at DMRevans2810@gmail.com.

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