DES MOINES — Opening its investigation Wednesday into the little-known state agency that runs Iowa’s distance learning and broadband carrier network, members of the House Government Oversight Committee wondered if inadequate training was partly to blame for allowing cronyism and misuse of taxpayer money at the organization.
While generally supportive of the role State Auditor Mary Mosiman played in exposing nearly $380,000 worth of improper disbursements and undeposited collections, some overseers also wondered why the agency’s staff and board members — including Mosiman herself, who is a non-voting member of the board — didn’t blow the whistle earlier.
Appearing before the committee Wednesday, Mosiman said that when leaders at the Iowa Communications Network brought concerns over irregularities in hiring and purchasing by then-Director Ric Lumbard to her attention, her office acted quickly to audit the government agency.
That audit revealed the purchase of two used semi-trailers containing video production equipment that she found were delivered not to the state agency but to Wind and Fire Ministries in rural Marion, where Lumbard served as chief executive officer. Lumbard later directed people to sell equipment from the trailers on eBay, the audit found, but none of the proceeds were deposited with the state agency.
Lumbard was fired from the $137,949 job in January, six months after the audit began.
Chairman Bobby Kaufmann, R-Wilton, noted Mosiman’s role “at the front lines of exposing this,” but had questions about why Lumbard’s apparent disregard for rules on hiring and purchasing did not raise red flags for staff and members of the board overseeing it, including ex officio board member Mosiman.
Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, questioned a lack of training for board members and a lack of information imparted to board members so they could properly oversee Lumbard’s spending.
At one point in answering Lensing, Mosiman said it was clear the board members either need more training or should disbanded.
Others questioned the checks and balances — and whether that spoke to a larger issue.
“How do we know this isn’t happening at other agencies?” Lensing said.
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Kaufmann said there was a concerted effort at the top of the agency “to circumvent the law.”
“He did everything he could to hide his nefarious acts from his board, and frankly, from all the taxpayers,” he said.
Kaufmann agreed with Mosiman that the silver lining in the investigation was that it may be possible to institute reforms “to expose anything else that might be happening in similar agencies.”
Kaufmann hopes that the Government Oversight investigation will “scare the daylights out of anyone else who is acting nefariously.”
He invited whistleblowers to come forward.
Rob Sand, a former assistant attorney general and Democratic candidate for Mosiman’s job, attended the hearing. He told reporters it was a “case where the taxpayers’ watchdog was asleep on the job.”
Mosiman sat on the Iowa Communications Network board, but missed more meetings than any other member and in four years asked only three questions — none of them about Lumbard’s alleged misuse of funds, Sand asserted.
Sand also noted that, according to the Auditor’s Office, it hadn’t audited the agency for seven or eight years.
Kaufmann plans to bring in “someone from the ICN orbit” to the next committee meeting.
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