Government reform advocates, lawmaker offer solutions for public corruption problem

Some say training should be mandatory

INDIANAPOLIS - Government reform advocates and state lawmakers are offering solutions in light of a three-month Call 6 Investigation that revealed most public officials accused of misusing and even downright stealing tax dollars often escape criminal charges and prison time.

Public employees, such as clerk treasurers, trustees and board members, have misappropriated more than $5 million statewide over the past three years, according to the Attorney General's Office.

"It's just unfortunate," said Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville. "I'm concerned examples like these have been increasing, not decreasing."

Bray, who has served as a county prosecutor, said the legislature needs to step up and beef up the State Board of Accounts.

Many financial public corruption cases start with the State Board of Accounts, which regularly audits state and local agencies and points out when tax dollars are misappropriated.

But due to budget cuts, staffing levels are down 25 percent at the State Board of Accounts compared to 2005.

"Let's get some more examiners," said Bray. "We need to get it back up to where it was. It's very difficult to recover the money or prosecute until you've had a good audit from the State Board of Accounts."

Mark Lawrance of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which supports government reform, said the solution is requiring training.

"I think with all elected officials and public servants there should be required ethics training of some kind," said Lawrance. "That may or may not weed out some of the bad apples, but it wouldn’t hurt."

The State Board of Accounts and groups like the Indiana Association of Counties and the Indiana Township Association offer training but the law does not require training for most public employees, such as township trustees.

"We've actually discussed that, and we're moving in that direction," said Debbie Driskell, executive director of the Indiana Township Association. "But, here's the roadblock: many of the trustees are part time and have to take their personal time away from work without pay."

Driskell said prosecutors instilling stiffer penalties would be the best deterrent.

"The fact that you don't often hear about people paying the price for theft, just makes it that much more tempting," said Driskell.

Driskell said while the association offers training for township workers, attendance could be improved.

"It's not nearly enough showing up," said Driskell.

The Indiana Association of Cities and Towns offers yearly training and webinars for clerk treasurers, but the training is not required by law.

"We would be open mandatory training," said Matt Greller, executive director of IACT. "Anything that provides professionalism to the office would be welcomed."

In response to Lawrance's suggestion about ethics training, Greller pointed out about 200 of 569 cities and towns in Indiana already have ethics policies in place.

"It's something we have no problem with as long as the locals have the ability to craft their own policies," said Greller.

The legislature is starting to require more training.

As of Nov. 6, county auditors and county treasurers are required to complete at least 15 hours of training courses within a year, and 40 hours within three years of beginning their term.

"I think county government could be a good example of how that works and reduces the opportunities for theft," said David Bottorf, executive director of the Indiana Association of Counties. "For county government, we have so many checks and balances. We don't always see that in other units of government."

Bottorf pointed out in county government, expenses have to be approved by the county commissioners.

The Attorney General is pushing for legislation in the upcoming session that would require an additional signature on government expenses, so there are more eyes on the books as they're being written.

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