The people of Oklahoma elect a “State Auditor & Inspector” as one of 11 statewide offices. Gary Jones was elected to the position in 2010 and again in 2014 after serving as Oklahoma Republican Party chairman. In both elections, Republicans won every statewide office.
Although conventional wisdom might dictate that a former party chairman would play the part of a staunch partisan, Jones has been critical of state leaders while promoting greater governmental transparency. His office employs 100 auditors who annually perform hundreds of reviews on city, county and state institutions. A list of audits can be found here.
Intrigued by the article we published regarding AG Scott Pruitt’s actions on PUD 260, Jones reached out to NonDoc to learn more about us.
Active on Facebook, Jones speaks his mind on social media and walks a fine line between critiquing politicians and being one.
Jones, who lives on a farm 20 miles southwest of Lawton, took time to answer some questions about issues related to his office. The following answers were given via email and have been lightly edited for style.
We understand that the auditor has to be ordered to begin an audit of financial activity; how does this limit your ability to track wasted funds and shine a light on government impropriety? For example: Aren’t there things that you are itching to audit but can’t due to the law?
While we have the statutory and constitutional responsibility to conduct financial statement audits on many county and state agencies, statutes have been passed that limit areas we can audit. For example: tax credits. The Legislature has made it clear they don’t want us reviewing tax credits even though that was the recommendation of Rep. David Dank’s task force and what Oklahomans elected us to do.
Many states have the authority and are given the resources to conduct performance audits to specifically point out waste and show how to operate government more efficiently. We have been told giving us the resources and authority to perform these audits is “growing government and gives us too much power;” however, another state agency has been appropriated more funds than we requested to conduct performance reviews. Somehow that is good government.
When you say in a post on Facebook, “…it’s time someone stood up to say no more,” what kinds of things exactly do you mean to rebel against? What kind of plausible, concrete solutions do you see as viable in addressing those things?
In February, the governor ordered a freeze on hiring and giving raises. For the last couple of years, our office has been focused on conserving as much as possible to help make it through these tough times — reducing staff and cutting spending. We recently became aware that the very agency responsible for overseeing the governor’s order had given literally millions in raises based on a study.
If we are going to solve the tough problems facing this state, we need to have a comprehensive plan that is fair to all state employees and agencies. Giving themselves raises of 20 percent to 60 percent while telling others to cut back does little (to) build confidence. Solving our financial problems is going to require sacrifice by all.
There was a case last year about a water manager in LeFlore County who diverted about $72,000 in funds from the rural water district she was in charge of; it appears she received a 10-year deferred sentence in October, according to online records.
Our job is to investigate and report. It is up to others to enforce. I would have to know more details as to why a harsher sentence was not imposed before I commented.
Also, there was the issue of an audit you did at the behest of AG Scott Pruitt regarding potential criminal activity surrounding the Tar Creek superfund site. In the end, Pruitt declined to release the audit to the public.
I will refer you to an article in NewsOK.com. The original request for this audit came from then-U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, addressing citizen concerns. Because the Oklahoma State Auditor & Inspector’s office cannot initiate an investigative audit, the request had to go through the AG’s office.
Our auditors worked hard on this audit for almost two years. It is my opinion that releasing the audit to the public would have provided greater transparency, and if the Attorney General then chose not to take further action, the public’s right to know would have been better served.
With corruption so rampant on large and small scales, how do you avoid becoming frustrated with a lack of agency to really bring the hammer down on those whose actions warrant punishment?
It is frustrating; however, we are committed to doing the best we can with what limited resources and authority we have. We will continue to do all we can to make government more transparent and accountable.
You have what some might call some pretty drastic measures for improving the efficiency of our state government’s spending, such as moving to a unicameral legislature. What’s the biggest obstacle to enacting such measures that, while considered radical by many, might benefit the state?
Too many in elected office have an inflated image of themselves and their own self-importance. We are elected as public servants to serve others and not ourselves. I remember something J.C. Watts said at a town hall meeting in Lawton in April 1995, shortly after he was elected to Congress. He said when he got out of professional sports, he never dreamed he would get into a profession where people had bigger egos.
I am a true conservative. I believe we should work for smaller, more efficient government. I believe Nebraska has a (unicameral legislature) model that works well and saves taxpayers dollars. We could do the same.
What are some of your proudest moments as state auditor, and what goals do you seek to achieve next?
I am blessed to work with some of the hardest working, most professional individuals I have ever had the pleasure to work with at the Oklahoma Auditor’s office. I am proud we have been able to achieve so much working together to have one of the best state auditor offices in the nation, even though we could do so much more if given the opportunity.
Feel free to mention anything else we failed to cover, and please include any New Year’s resolutions.
I have no idea what the future may hold. All I know is that, because of term limits, I have three more years as Oklahoma’s State Auditor to make a difference and help make Oklahoma a better place for my kids and grandkids.
That’s exactly what I plan on doing!