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Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014

Dust off county leadership

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Merrill residents were told by Thom Guzman, director of the Downtown Resource Center in the Iowa Department of Economic Development: "A report doesn't do anything if it just sits on the shelf."

Guzman encouraged residents to take action -- and local funding -- to revitalize Merrill's downtown.

Guzman also told a group of interested Merrill residents, "It's a lot of hard work. It takes conviction and commitment to make something happen."

Compare that attitude with a comment by Jack Spies, chairman of the Plymouth County board of supervisors: " ... we'll probably find a shelf in Plymouth County that we can store it and let it gather dust."

He was talking during a recent meeting about the inventory of county assets that is needed as one of the steps in converting to new auditing standards. It's been one of many discussions, but very little visible action. In fact, participants don't even seem to check their own minutes or notes for accurate recall or timely follow-up on the project.

Why does it matter?

The board of supervisors was warned that lateness in the changeover would bring an "adverse" opinion on the financial audit. That could mean the county is sent to the back of the line in getting grants. Of course, other than Department of Justice grants every year, Plymouth County hasn't seemed too adventurous in going after grants.

A successful grant history usually requires departments with well-documented goals and policies. No professional grant-writer can make up for leaders with attitudes like "... let it gather dust."

The adverse opinion on the 2002/03 audit also could affect bond ratings -- the cost of borrowing money. Plymouth County has borrowed relatively little money -- $5.4 million for the Law Enforcement Center.

The county will pay off debts for the addition on the courthouse in a few years -- and the company even suggested they look into getting cheaper rates on their debts. Notice that it seemed to be the financier prompting that idea. It seems that county leaders haven't dusted off their mortgage books to notice that better rates might be available.

The inventory is just one more example of Plymouth County officials not taking responsibility for the county's business. That county officials didn't remember to budget for the changeover is just one more example of poor management.

This changeover was supposed to happen two years ago for counties of this size. Financial records are principally a responsibility of the county auditor's office. The board of supervisors is responsible for making sure that the county regains and remains compliant with standards.

Now is the time to set it right. Start with the inventory and pay attention to it being done correctly. Your insurance company gave you a start by working with several county staff members to add $1.5 million of county property not previously insured.

Once an inventory is done, it should be used by officials -- whoever they may be -- to manage county resources in a thoughtful, strategic manner. The inventory can be used in tandem with an updated version of the county's goals and objectives -- which were allowed to gather dust on some shelf long ago.