The state auditor plays a vital role within the state government by being a watchdog for taxpayers. In addition, having a state auditor of the opposite political party than the governor can provide needed accountability, something that may be harder for a state auditor of the same party to do.
We were optimistic that when Rob Sand, a Democrat, defeated incumbent Republican Mary Mosiman would provide that accountability and seek to be as nonpartisan as possible while functioning in that role.
In October, Sand said that Governor Reynolds use of CARES Act funding for Workday, a cloud-based human resources, finance, and planning system meant to modernize the state’s IT infrastructure, was an inappropriate use of CARES Act funding. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Inspector General concurred with Sand’s statement. The Reynolds Administration returned the $21 million in federal funding.
On that score, Sand was right, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury backed him up.
Since then, he has openly expressed interest in running for governor.
In an interview, Sand told The Caroll Times Herald that he would decide whether to run for governor or run for re-election as state auditor by Labor Day.
During his “Transperancy Tuesday” Facebook Live stream last week, Sand was asked about the security fence that the Iowa Department of Public Safety announced would be built around Terrace Hill, the official residence of Iowa’s governor, that will cost approximately $400,000.
“Threats should be taken seriously, and the governor has seen threats, but so did Governor Branstad. So did Governor Culver. So did Governor Vilsack. They didn’t build a fence,” he replied.
Sand then compared that to funding for the Iowa Department of Corrections, which saw a $20 million budget increase this legislative session after two prison staff were killed during an attempted escape at the Anamosa State Penitentiary in March.
“And in the meantime, you know, year after year after year, we’ve seen a lot of violence in Iowa’s correctional facilities, which could have been fixed in a variety of ways, depending on who you ask. But we didn’t see much action. Until finally now, that two correctional officers actually got murdered, now they decided to provide additional funding,” he said.
“So it’s just, to me, it’s a question of priorities and insiders versus outsiders. $400,000 for protection because of some threats that were not uncommon, versus years of assaults that essentially got nothing until people died,” Sand added. “Priorities are out of whack for who that’s serving.”
Iowa is one of two states that currently does not have a perimeter fence around its governor’s residence.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety said the state continually reviews infrastructure security protocols and technology upgrades across the Capitol Complex and the Governor’s residence at Terrace Hill. Since 2017, these reviews included considerations of the need for security enhancements, such as perimeter fencing at Terrace Hill.
After 9/11, many states took that step, but Iowa did not.
The Iowa Department of Public Safety also noted that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency recommended, among other measures, the need for perimeter security fencing at Terrace Hill on more than one occasion, with the latest assessment taking place in January of 2020.
While $400,000 sounds like a steep price tag, Terrace Hill is a large property. Radio Iowa reported that the Iowa Department of Public Safety said the fence would be wrought iron to match the architectural style of Terrace Hill, a historical landmark in Des Moines. The fence will also be 6 to 7 feet high.
A project such as that is not cheap. The Iowa Department of Public Safety will pay for it out of their budget, and there is no evidence that Reynolds or her staff advocated for it.
Considering the recent kidnapping plot of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, building a perimeter fence seems prudent. However, would Sand prefer an attempt to be made on Reynolds’ life before a fence is in place?
It’s a petty, partisan criticism.
Also, last week, Sand issued a report alleging that Reynolds broke state law by spending taxpayer funding creation of a COVID-19 public service announcement campaign launched in November called the “Step Up and Stop the Spread Campaign” that included spending $152,585 for paid advertisements on TV, radio, and the internet that had her image, voice, and title.
He alleged that expenditure violated a 2018 law signed by Reynolds that prohibits state elected officials’ self-promotion with taxpayer funding. A charge, if true, would come with a hefty fine. Violators, if found guilty, would be subject to a fine of the amount spent in violation of the law. So, in Reynolds’ case, it would be $152,585. Sand provided copies of the report to Polk County Attorney John Sarcone and the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation.
Reynolds’ office pointed out, correctly, that the law provides an exemption during a public health emergency. Not only that, but Sand’s office only sent the report to the Governor’s office the afternoon before making it public and, according to Reynolds’ chief of staff Sara Craig, they did not communicate with the governor during the process of his office’s investigation.
Sand doubled down and said that the governor needed to include that exemption in her public health declaration, but the text of the public health emergency management law does not say that.
However, it does provide for the use of “all available resources of the state government as reasonably necessary to cope with the disaster emergency and of each political subdivision of the state.”
Had Reynolds used taxpayer money to promote pieces of her agenda that were passed this legislative session, Sand would have a legitimate point. However, Reynolds used the funding to promote public health measures to mitigate the disease, not promote herself, something state law gives her the authority to do and something, frankly, we should want any governor, regardless of party, to do.
Sand last week transitioned from being a taxpayer watchdog to using his office to play partisan politics, and we are frankly disappointed. He needs to keep any potential gubernatorial campaign separate from his official duties as State Auditor.