The Public Integrity Coalition will train elected officials and public employees from local governments throughout the state in best financial practices and how to prevent embezzlement of public money.
“With some additional training as to proper best management practices for accounting for the public’s money and good office practices, that might prevent some of these situations before they occur,” said Bryan Corbin, public information officer for the attorney general’s office. “If somebody does do something dishonest, maybe someone else will catch it.”
The announcement by Zoeller follows the announcement made last week of a broad financial plan by Mayor Mark Kruzan and Deputy Mayor John Whikehart that would place more accountability on government officials following an embezzlement scandal with a former city project manager.
The coalition, announced Tuesday by Attorney General Greg Zoeller, will build upon the existing roles of his office and the State Board of Accounts, which conducts audits of local government units like cities, counties, school corporations and libraries. When these audits turn up misused or embezzled funds, they’re forwarded to Zoeller’s office, which works to retrieve the money.
“Literally, we serve as the collection agent for the State of Indiana,” Corbin said. “We can take any sorts of civil action that a creditor can take against a debtor to collect on debts.”
The trainings around the state, which Corbin said will begin soon, will be done in partnership with existing associations of local government officials that represent cities and counties at the state level.
“The important thing to understand about this coalition is the two key partners here are the two organizations that represent local officials,” he said. “Why reinvent the wheel when there are already two very effective associations that already represent public employees?”
Right now in Indiana, cases remain open on more than $11 million of misappropriated public funds.
About two-thirds of those cases have been uncovered since January 2009, when Zoeller became attorney general, according to documents released by his office.
“The vast majority of those who serve in public office are honest and strive to serve constituents efficiently, and only a small minority violate the public trust and enrich themselves with taxpayers’ money,” Zoeller said in the coalition’s announcement Tuesday. “Some public corruption might have been prevented with greater supervision and training for officials and employees.”
In that same time, $4.5 million has been collected by the attorney general’s office through its role as public debt collector.
“While corruption is not rampant in local governments in Indiana, it takes only a few bad apples to reinforce negative perceptions among the public of all public servants, which is unfortunate,” Zoeller said in the announcement Tuesday.
In Monroe County, there are currently seven open misappropriations cases that, in total, are worth $204,678 to local governments.
“We’re happy to go and file lawsuits if necessary,” Corbin said. “But wouldn’t it be preferable if people simply didn’t misappropriate in the first place? Wouldn’t it be preferable if people simply followed the rules as they should?”
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