FOUR SEASONS VILLAGE — The four people running for the Republican Party's nomination to be Missouri's next state auditor agree on one thing: Voters should replace current Auditor Nicole Galloway, a Democrat.
But, during a Missouri Press Association candidates' forum Friday at the Lodge of the Four Seasons, they disagreed on the experience needed to be state auditor.
A question noted the state Constitution has no professional requirements and only requires the auditor to be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen for at least the last 15 years and a Missouri resident for at least the last 10 years.
All four candidates said those constitutional requirements are not enough.
"I think voters have expressed that at the ballot box," David Wasinger, of St. Louis County said, noting every auditor for at least the last 40 years has been either an attorney or a CPA.
Wasinger is both — and currently specializes in business law.
He argued voters should support him because he's the only CPA among the four GOP candidates.
"There are a some very good professionals in the auditor's office," he said, "and they're going to look for me (to see) whether or not I have the knowledge and the wisdom to lead that office."
Kevin Roach, of Ballwin, said: "We've got a lot of people who live in Missouri (with) professional degrees, certifications and advanced degrees. What's most important is to have someone in the office who's not blind to the problems," which, he argued, include a failure to keep tabs on the state's 3,700 separate government entities.
State Rep. Paul Curtman, R-Washington — whose work career includes being a financial advisor — noted "CPAs and attorneys get fired all the time in the private sector" for making mistakes or for failing to offer leadership to solve problems.
"What matters most in this office, more than anything else, is leadership," he said. "If you're not a good leader — if you're not driven by character — it doesn't mean anything."
And Saundra McDowell, a Jefferson City lawyer who, until earlier this year, worked for Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's Securities Division, added: "I still think there needs to be that professional experience — that legal experience or accounting experience — that you can go in and, at least, understand parts of what you're doing."
Every new officeholder is going to have some learning curve, McDowell said.
Auditor's accessibility to smaller governments, agencies
State law says the auditor "shall have free access to all offices of this state for the inspection of such books, accounts and papers as concern any of his duties."
The candidates were asked if the auditor should be more accessible to local governments.
McDowell said yes, adding: "A lot of them want the auditor's office to come in and help them, but their concern is, if they call the auditor's office and then they come in, (the local offices) will get dinged on a bunch of stuff."
She said the state auditor should be able to help without the local governments incurring the extra expenses required of hiring an outside auditing firm.
Wasinger said "one of the many (current) problems" with the auditor's office is that Galloway is "a liberal, insider (who) has stacked that office with a bunch of political insiders (who) have nowhere to go because the Republicans took over all the state offices but auditor."
He said those insiders "are not capable of performing audits," so they can't help the local governments seeking help.
Roach said: "We need a state auditor who is reading the statutes that pertain to the office (so) that we can use resources better.
"The Legislature only gives the auditor a budget of between $7 million and $8 million," so the auditor must organize the office better "so that you can offer some services for free to the communities who need it."
Curtman agreed state audits can be expensive for local governments, but said: "I do believe the state auditor can have educational teams, or whatever, that can come in to — short of a full-scale audit — help them get back on track."
Other auditor's duties
Roach said the auditor should do a "first-ever in the history of Missouri — 200 years almost" — statewide budget assessment, "to add up the budgets of all the 3,700 government entities (and) figure out what the true number is."
He said determining that cost would be part of his effort to make government more transparent.
Curtman said the auditor must work more closely with the Legislature — especially the budget committees.
"If the auditor's office is not working with the Legislature, there are not going to be any solutions that are actually put in place," he said, noting auditor's reports only make recommendations for change.
"They have to work with the policy-makers and, a lot of times, that's often left out of the discussion. It does no good to do audits and just let those audit reports sit on shelves."
McDowell said she's concerned if voters approve the "Clean Missouri" proposal, which was submitted by initiative petition and has not yet been certified for the November ballot, it includes a requirement the auditor be involved in legislative redistricting after the federal census is taken.
"The next auditor will have that jurisdiction to go in and do a list of developers to be the person who would redistrict," she explained. "So, we need to get a good auditor in there, who's going to be unbiased (and) nonpolitical."
Wasinger said the main challenge to the next auditor is restoring the people's trust.
"People think the system in both Washington, D.C., and Jefferson City is fixed by the political insiders, the lobbyists (and) the career politicians," he said. "We want to root out fraud, waste and corruption in Missouri."
Major audit projects
If elected to be the next state auditor, each offered a different area as a first major auditing project.
Curtman said his first target would be Missouri's Social Services Department.
McDowell wants to look at operations of the Missouri Courts system.
Wasinger said his first project would be a thorough audit of the auditor's office.
Roach said the state's Public Safety Department should be scrutinized.
All four candidates will appear on the Aug. 7 Republican primary ballot.
The winner will face Galloway, Libertarian Sean O'Toole, of Kansas City, Green Party candidate Don Fitz, of St. Louis, and Constitution Party candidate Jacob Luetkemeyer, of California.
Based on information from the secretary of state's office provided Saturday, this story was modified at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16, to reflect that Saundra McDowell left the secretary of state's office earlier this year.