Senators this week backed away from a proposal to sell the state-owned fiber optics network. Instead, the senate voted for an audit of the Iowa Communications Network, to see what parts could be sold.
Republican Senator Randy Feenstra of Hull said he initially thought selling the network was the right move.
“I think many of us, including myself, came to realize that the ICN has a lot of valuable assets and provides significant services to our state,” Feenstra said, “including to the National Guard, E911 and to our schools and hospitals.”
Legislators have talked about getting the state out of the telecommunications business ever since the Iowa Communications Network was created 30 years ago. However, a recent state audit revealed the network’s now-fired manager hired unqualified cronies and gave them huge raises. He also went on a vacation to Belize at state expense and intended to sell state-owned equipment on EBay. That has prompted renewed discussion among legislators about the ICN’s future.
“We’ve got a complete rat’s nest at the ICN and it’s time to clean the rat’s nest out of the barn and I’m ready to do it,” said Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines.
The bill that passed the senate would direct the state auditor to conduct a “comprehensive” audit of ICN operations.
“I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s going on at the ICN and if this were a business, it’d be bankrupt,” McCoy said.
The bill passed unanimously, but not before Democrats objected to having State Auditor Mary Mosiman involved in the evaluation. Mosiman is a non-voting member of the network’s board and admits she and the rest of the board had trusted the now-fired manager. Republicans like Feenstra say it was Mosiman’s office that identified the $380,000 worth of misspending after a tip from whistleblowers in the agency.
“So I think they know more than anybody what’s going on in the ICN currrently, so I think they are the best ones to do the audit,” Feenstra said. “And if they don’t feel comfortable, they can definitely get a third party to do it.”
The bill also calls for hiring a private firm to appraise the assets of the Iowa Communications Network.