A group of state lawmakers used strong language to describe their frustration with alleged financial misdeeds at the Iowa Association of School Boards.
A lawyer and a C.P.A. who’ve been trying to unravel the organization’s financial records testified late this afternoon before the Legislative Oversight Committee. Senator Rich Olive, a Democrat from Story City who is the committee’s chairman, kicked off a question-and-answer session with this pointed statement.
“Iowans and this committee are pissed that this went on and that’s the truth,” Olive said. “We are not happy that suddenly we have to call people into (the) Oversight (Committee) to look into the misuse of taxpayer dollars.”
The association’s executive director increased her own pay, without approval from her board of directors, and she also boosted the salaries of three of her top lieutenants. The association’s board of directors placed her on paid administrative leave last week and the auditor who’s been trying to sort through the group’s records says her explanation of her own pay hike doesn’t “jibe” with the facts. Senator Tom Courtney, a Democrat from Burlington who is a member of the Legislative Oversight Committee, called the organization’s top managers “no more than common thieves” and Courtney warned his colleagues that he was “burned up” about the situation.
“We spend over $3 billion a year in this state on education and these people found a way to steal some of it,” Courtney said. “…This is outrageous. I hope the FBI gets involved. I hope they all wind up in prison. I hope they’re there for a hundred years. This is ridiculous.”
Representative Deborah Berry, a Democrat from Waterloo, was among the last Oversight Committee members who spoke during today’s 90 minute meeting. “First of all, I want you to know how I feel about this whole situation. It’s exactly how Senator Courtney feels, so I’m glad he got it out and I can look like a lady today,” Berry said, as some other members of the committee laughed.
C.P.A. Ted Lodden delivered a timeline to the committee, revealing that after months of review his firm is still unable to fully account for some of the association’s financial transactions between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009. He suggests the executive director’s explanation of her significant salary increase makes “no sense” to him. Lodden also warned legislators that the Iowa Association of School Boards is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status.
“In retrospect you’re probably sitting there, like I am, saying ‘This is the strangest thing that I’ve ever been through in my entire career,’ and I can honestly tell you that,” Lodden said. “This is very, very strange. I’ve never run into this before and I hope I never do again.”
Attorney Nolden Gentry and his law firm were hired by the association’s board of directors last week to try to sort out the situation. Gentry told lawmakers there is no one working at the association today who can help answer many key questions. Two top administrators have serious health problems and the board of directors has asked the group’s executive director to stay out of the office while her conduct is being investigated. Gentry told legislators he’d answer as many questions of their questions as he could.
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and want to cooperate fully with you,” Gentry told lawmakers.
Gentry’s law firm has been contacted by an F.B.I. agent about the case. Earlier today, Governor Culver hinted a state-level criminal investigation may be underway.
“Obviously we’re very concerned with that situation,” Culver said of IASB. “We are relying primarily on the attorney general’s office to investigate and determine any criminal wrongdoing.”
Culver made his comments during a question-and-answer session today with statehouse reporters. One reporter asked Culver is he had “faith” in the IASB right now.
“No, and I doubt that Iowans do given the seriousness of these allegations,” Culver replied.