Have reporters become PR agents for the Board?

I realize it’s popular these days to bash sitting county auditors, but reporter Gregg Hennigan’s story – see http://thegazette.com/2012/10/18/johnson-county-auditor-overspent-equipment-budget-by-58000/ – on Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett portrays a violation of a Board of Supervisors policy, procedure, or protocol as being against the law when no law was broken.

Once a Board approves an elected official’s budget, the Board has NO statutory authority to exercise any additional control over the official’s budget UNLESS the elected official consents to the Board’s authority.  And further, after approving a line item budget, the Board CANNOT refuse a claim submitted by an elected official even if the claim exceeds the budget of the line item.  And finally, the elected official does NOT have to disclose which line item he took the funds from in order to pay the claim.

The preceding paragraph can be confirmed by reading Opinion #86-6-3(L), which can be found in the Opinions of the Office of the Iowa Attorney General – see http://government.westlaw.com/iaag/

Here’s an excerpt from that opinion.  My emphasis is indicated in bold:

This office has reviewed the authority of the board of supervisors over the county budget process on numerous occasions. See Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3; 1982 Op.Att’yGen. 389; 1982 Op.Att’yGen. 389; 1980 Op.Att’yGen. 664; 1968 Op.Att’yGen. 614. A review of these opinions reveals several relevant principles which can be summarized as follows:


1. The county board of supervisors is vested with considerable authority over the county budget process. However, once the budgets submitted by other county officers are reviewed and approved by the supervisors, there is no statutory authority for the supervisors to exercise any additional control over the budgets of elected county officials. The supervisors have the right to ensure that claims submitted by elected county officials are within that official’s approved budget, but they have no right to refuse claims that are within the budget and for a legitimate purpose. 1980 Op.Att’yGen. 664.


2. After approving a line item budget, the supervisors cannot refuse a claim submitted by an elected county officer on the ground that the claim exceeds the amount appropriated for the particular line category which that claim falls within. [FN1] Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.


3. While the supervisors control the total amount of money appropriated to an elected county office, there is no express statutory authority which would allow the supervisors to exercise further control over particular expenditures from the budgets of elected county officers. Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.


4. Authority over personnel matters relating to deputies and assistants resides with the elected principals unless a statute expressly gives authority to the board of supervisors. McMurray v. Board of Supervisors of Lee County, 261 N.W.2d 688, 691 (Iowa 1978).


5. Although the supervisors may exercise a significant degree of control over elected county officers’ budgets prior to the budget’s final adoption, once the budget is final, the supervisors’ authority is significantly curtailed. Op.Att’yGen. # 85-6-3.

Mr. Hennigan and his peers need to start doing their homework when writing about which Board policies apply to elected officials and which ones apply to the departments reporting directly to the Board.  There’s a huge difference and the media needs to make the differentiation if they are going to write the stories.

Quit publicly humiliating elected officials who don’t follow Board policies that never applied to those elected officials in the first place.

If county auditors, attorneys, sheriffs, recorders, and treasurers reported to Boards of Supervisors, then none of those positions would be on the ballot.

And reporters should stop writing stories as if they are public relations agents  for the Board of Supervisors.  How about reviewing the applicable laws and legal opinions before writing a story?

Or maybe just ask the question:  Were any laws violated?  Is that too much to ask?  ###

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2 Responses to “Have reporters become PR agents for the Board?”

  1. rednax1206 Says:

    Nothing in the news story suggests that laws were broken. The words “Law”, “Legal”, “Illegal” or “Statute” do not appear in the story whatsoever.

    When someone does something you do not like and it’s against the rules, you punish them for breaking the rules. When someone does something you do not like that’s no against the rules, you try to create a new rule to prevent it from happening again.

    This is clearly a case of the latter, based on the statement in the story that “the supervisors do not have proper control measures in place.”


    • lcauditor Says:

      My purpose in quoting the Attorney General’s Opinion is to point out to you that the Board of Supervisors does NOT have the authority to impose ANY “control measures” on the Auditor, Treasurer, Recorder, Sheriff, or Attorney once an appropriation is made to those officials. The Board can cut the appropriations to an officer, but it does not get to dictate how the funds are spent as long as they are for a public purpose.


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