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Putting the aw(e) back in auditing

I mentioned the Wyoming state auditor in this column a few months ago, noting that the position shows up on the statewide ballot every four years, despite voters having not the faintest clue what the job is. I suggested the auditor might be found at the former Safeway building where the Legislature had moved during the epochal Capitol renovations. She would be tallying vegetable purchases at the checkout counter.

Wrong on several counts! First, state government has not taken over an old grocery store during its sojourn away from the Capitol – rather, it’s moved to the Jonah Financial Center, a smart, newish building erected by the McMurray family empire, which was funded by the Jonah Field, an oil and gas bonanza near Pinedale. And, really, for continuity’s sake it’s much more appropriate for legislators to find shelter with the energy industry, rather than an old Safeway, with the odor of Cotto Salami hanging around the deli area.

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But I digress, as usual. My other error in that long-ago column was to make fun of the State Auditor. Shortly after, I got a handwritten note from Cynthia Cloud. Cynthia is Microsoft’s computer-generated cloud-data-storage language-user-interface, or Siri’s little sister. No, just kidding! She’s the Wyoming state auditor! And she wanted me to come see her!

Like any good reporter, I did a little research about the auditor, a few weeks after writing the story. And there, in the fine print, I found that the state auditor controls her own paramilitary force, which is why, when she offers me an audience, I’m THERE.

Cynthia Cloud has reddish hair, a ready smile, and a really nice view from her temporary fourth floor office in a bank building, which she’d probably like to stay in rather than return to the dowdy old State Capitol when renovations are completed some time during Chelsea Clinton’s presidency.

Cloud immediately gave me a nifty summary of what her office does: “I spend the money. It’s the fun job.”

The Wyoming state auditor processes $3.5 billion in state government spending annually, and actually outranks the State Treasurer in the state hierarchy. (I’m not sure what the Treasurer does either – I think he sits on a large pile of gold doubloons behind the former Safeway meat counter and cackles to himself.)

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The auditor has a huge IT system (that stands for “Information Technology”, not “Immature Tomatoes”, which you’ll find at Safeway), to process 14,000 paychecks a month, conduct over 1 million transactions annually, and deal with 150,000 vendors. The office was created back in the days when the Union Pacific Railroad had tentacles reaching into the State Capitol, and it was time to keep track, independent of the Treasurer, of how state monies came and went. While the auditor’s office audits the rest of state government, it gets audited itself by an independent firm. You know what an audit is, right? Most of us do, around April 15.

The Wyoming state auditor’s operation is militantly transparent. A 265-page annual financial report is available on the website, along with a three-page “popular” report.

You’re not even going to read the short one, are you? Let me summarize in one sentence, using Cynthia Cloud’s words: “I spend the money.”

There is some startling information in even the short three-pager, and some good pie charts. Did you know that Wyoming has the second highest rate of trust in state government in the nation – 76 percent? (“You really like me!” says weeping bureaucrat.) Or that we are first in “business friendly” tax climate, and spend only one percent of our budget on business regulation? (“You really, really like me!” says cackling business person.) Or that our state tourism department “partnered” on a cartoon movie called “The Good Dinosaur”, which made The Disney Company $321 million in 2015? (I don’t know why I’m including this, but I don’t know why the auditor included it in the report, either.)

Like other statewide elected officials, the Wyoming state auditor has a vote on various important state boards, including the State Loan and Investment Board and the State Building Commission. Unlike many statewide elected officials, Cloud has the time and takes it to get around and look at the projects they fund, such as, recently, the SLIB board’s investment in expanding North Bighorn Hospital, which generated local controversy, or the Wyoming Business Council investment in the Hyattville Cemetery. She meets with local government agencies when she travels, though she generally doesn’t make much of her official auditor title, “because nobody cares.”

Cloud seems to care, as only a CPA might, about some of the details that make the rest of us glaze over. She notices when local governments fail to draw mineral royalty grants, or when fire-fighting costs don’t get entered in the books as liabilities. She pushes for more technology and data automation, but can’t get the Legislature to fund an updated system for human resources data. She’s trying to modernize cash management coordination with the treasurer’s office.

And, most amazing, she’s still smiling and energetic after talking, a lot, about this stuff to me.

Moving forward, I am a little less energetic when it comes to writing the story. We talked back in February. The awful truth is, I haven’t thought of the Wyoming state auditor in months, while the rest of you have, I’m sure, thought of little else. Only with April 15 approaching, and the word “audit” hanging in the air, did I become fearful of another hand-written note from Cheyenne.

So, column written, duty done. I turn to other work, at least until the next hand-written note arrives…from State Treasurer Mark Gordon, Cary Brus at McMurray Central, a Safeway register jockey, or the Ghost of Union Pacific Past.

 

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact interim editor Matthew Copeland at [email protected]

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About the Author

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Geoffrey O’Gara is a writer and documentary producer based in Lander, Wyoming. He works for The Content Lab, LLC. His column, Weed Draw, is named for a remote vantage in Wyoming’s Red Canyon. He is the author of What You See in Clear Water: Indians, Whites, and a Battle Over Water in the American West (2002), and A Long Road Home, Journeys Through America’s Present in Search of America’s Past (1989), and several other books. Contact Geoff at [email protected]

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3 Responses to Putting the aw(e) back in auditing

  1. Mark Gordon April 10, 2016 at 2:51 pm #

    Geoff, What is your point?

    Cheyenne, Wyoming

  2. cary_brus April 5, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    I can’t leave a long comment, Geoff. I am working on my cursive skills for my one-and-only only handwritten note – forthcoming – to you. Look for it!

    The 'Sper, Wyoming

  3. Sue Sommers April 5, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    In the interest of accurate journalism, it’s McMurry, not McMurray. In Sublette County, that family has had an impact akin to the state auditor’s.

    Pinedale , Wyoming

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