A state audit has found an Ottumwa-based commission that administers federal block grants in a 10-county region “overbilled” cities in the area by at least $91,000. State Auditor Dave Vaudt says the investigation started because an employee filed a lawsuit after being fired from the commission, alleging there were “financial improprieties” in the agency.
The audit reviewed six year’s worth of records and Vaudt says the commission’s executive director didn’t keep proper track of the hours employees worked. “There were 21 cities that the commission had improperly billed…and what the executive director was doing was billing the maximum allowed under that project rather than actual costs that were incurred by the commission,” Vaudt says.
The grants were used to promote economic development in the region and the auditor says it’s possible even more money was improperly spent. “When you take a look at the information and the records that were kept, the timesheets and so forth were definitely not kept accurately so it’s very hard to determine the proper allocation of time,” Vaudt says.
The agency is called the Area XV Regional Planning Commission and it serves Appanoose, Davis, Jefferson, Keokuk, Lucas, Mahaska, Monroe, Van Buren, Wapello and Wayne counties.
About two years ago, an audit Vaudt conducted of a central Iowa job training agency financed by federal funds uncovered excessive executive salaries after a whistleblower inside the agency came forward. The audit of this Ottumwa commission, however, was prompted after a fired employee blew the whistle. “I think whenever you see some of this going on, the key thing is to make sure that employees understand they should be recording their time accurately and if being instructed to do something other than the accurate reporting, they should always bring it to the attention of the supervisor, and if the supervisor overrides them, they should go to the board of directors,” Vaudt says.