Outlandish spending deserves scrutiny

Thanks to whistleblowers and government inspectors general, taxpayers often are alerted when state and federal officials spend our money wastefully. Stories about “fact-finding” trips that are no more than junkets and lavish spending on hot-tub equipped hotel rooms at “training” conferences are, sadly, common.

But what about local officials? Do they always pinch taxpayers’ pennies?

Most of the time, yes. But occasionally, no.

Officials from one Ohio school district, visiting Columbus for a conference, stayed in a $300-a-night hotel, state Auditor Dave Yost reported. A nearby hotel would have cost taxpayers one-third as much.

And Yost said his staff also found a school superintendent with an excellent fringe benefit. Board of education members in his district agreed to pay off his college loans – all $170,000 of them.

Yost’s purpose in revealing the outrageous abuse of taxpayers was to announce a plan to bring such situations to the public’s notice.

Members of the auditor’s staff regularly examine financial records of local government entities including municipalities, counties, townships and school districts. When they find something amiss, they can issue official “findings” that require corrections and sometimes, reimbursements. Yost wants to add a new category of finding – “abuse.”

When auditors find abusive spending, even if it is perfectly legal, they will issue an “abuse” finding. Yost estimated 25 or so of the about 3,800 audits his office does each year could result in such action.

That would be nice – but it will be surprising if the number is not higher.

Yost is to be encouraged to pursue the plan.

Of course, when “abuse” findings involve local entities, we will let you know about them – in the hope that at the next election, public officials who have trouble distinguishing between their own checkbooks and reimbursement from taxpayers will be turned out of office.