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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 20, 2018

‘Empowering City Elected Officials’

New YouTube series created by state auditor’s office encourages local governments to take a closer look at fraud
Apr 02, 2018

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News

 

City officials in the state of Iowa who were newly-elected in November received a YouTube video in their inbox from the state in January titled “Empowering City Elected Officials.”

As new city counselors settle into their positions, State Auditor Mary Mosiman spearheaded creating the first of a series of videos that will equip all types of elected officials with the tools necessary to reduce fraud in their organizations.

“Our unofficial motto (in the state department) is: In God we trust. Everyone else, we audit,” Mosiman said.

As someone with years of experience as an auditor, Mosiman said she is concerned that there is fraud in every level of government. Knowing that, she asked herself what she could do to help reduce that risk.

“In fraud, there’s not much anyone can do about one’s motive, but an auditor can impact the opportunity,” Mosiman said.

Although city clerks at Mt. Pleasant and New London were so far unaware of the video, Winfield City Clerk Angie Oepping remembers forwarding it on to her council in January when new officials took office.

For small towns in Iowa like Winfield that are cited during state audits for a lack of segregation of duties, Mosiman hopes this video can give advice on cost-effective ways to ensure accountability.

In an interview with The News following their regular city council meeting on March 14, Oepping said the city is “dinged” on segregation of duties every year because they only have two people in the office.

Mosiman wants to change that line of thinking, saying that city financial information such as bank statements can be shared regularly with one or two designated city council members to ensure sufficient segregation of duties. She called this setting up internal controls.

“We recognize segregation of duties is difficult when you have limited staff. That’s why we recommend elected officials are involved,” Mosiman said. “It’s our method of handling segregation of duties without a lot of time or effort.”

This second pair of eyes on payroll, deposits, withdrawals, checks deposited and cash could potentially deter someone from considering committing fraud. “There’s a plethora of information on bank statements,” Mosiman said.

Especially in small towns like in Henry County where many citizens know their elected officials and may even be on a first-name basis with them, Mosiman wants to create a culture where citizens can approach their local officials with questions. These videos will not only educate elected officials on how to respond but hold them accountable to know how to answer citizens’ questions.

Her video includes tips about what red flags might look like when it comes to fraud, such as someone overreacting to simple questions regarding financial transactions.

While some city clerks may already be attending conferences and seminars such as the Iowa League of Cities to educate them on better financial practices at City Hall, only about 300 out of 900 representatives from each city in Iowa are accounted for.

Although those conferences aren’t mandatory, this is how Mosiman knows she is not seeing 100 percent participation, which is another reason why she wanted to bring education to city clerks and elected officials instead of asking them to give up a couple days of their lives for a conference.

Mosiman understands that city officials especially are busy, with full-time jobs elsewhere and perhaps no background in finance, but that just urges her on to help educate them even further in a quick, easy manner.

The video was shot with a tripod and a cellphone, which Mosiman said was very easy with today’s technology.

“We’re not actors,” she added. “We’re just trying to do our very best as the taxpayers’ watchdog.”

Over the next year, Mosiman hopes that in addition to city government the auditor’s office will create videos for state agencies, school districts and school boards, townships, extension offices, public universities and service groups to name a few.

“Every type of elected official has laws pertaining to how they conduct day in and day out operations,” Mosiman said. “That’s why we want a specific video for each type of elected official with an overriding message of how to better take care of taxpayer dollars.”

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