September 6, 2018 10:54:08 AM
Alex Holloway - [email protected]
For Shad White, the State Auditor's Office is a job where he can feel like he's making progress every day.
White, who was named the state auditor July, visited Mississippi State University on Wednesday to speak about his time so far on the job and his goals for the office. MSU's College Republicans hosted White.
As state auditor, White said his office's primary mission is to audit any entity that uses public money to ensure it's being used properly. That can involve things such as property audits, where an investigator will check an entity's physical inventory to be sure it has all of the items it says it has or investigating a reported misappropriation of public money.
In just the month-and-a-half he's been on the job, White said he's already seen a number of interesting cases.
"It ranges from a principal at a school who thought it would be OK to take $100,000 in TV screens and technical equipment from a poor, rural school," he said. "You see something like that and it makes a huge difference to that school, wherever it is. It's a broke, Mississippi school. You look at that case at the end and you feel like you've made a real difference."
In another recently finished case, White said, a public board decided to give a wealth executive director $250,000 bonus. It was a different sort of misappropriation, he said, and it offers an example of the broad spectrum of issues his office addresses.
"The board didn't make a decision to benefit themselves," he said. "It's not like they stole a TV and ran out the door like the first guy. But they did make some really dumb decisions that also happened to be illegal."
In response to a question from a student, White said his office will soon have a new responsibility added. With the passage of legislation, focused on increasing spending on road and bridge infrastructure across the state, White's office will be tasked with performing performance audits.
"What that means is we don't look to see if anybody stole money, we look to see if money is being spent efficiently," he said. "So we'll go in and look and see whether some of these folks who are building roads and bridges with this new money are doing so in a way that maximizes the dollars and is not wasteful."
In addition to his office's normal work, White said he wants to complete an audit of his own office, which he said has not been fully audited in 22 years. That is currently in progress.
He's also aimed to improve transparency, and his office now posts contracts it enters into online for public viewing.
A third goal, White said, is to strengthen the office's cyber security, which might also benefit other state offices.
"We just have a ton of information that flows into our office. What I wanted to do was start testing our systems," he said. "So we have a couple of coders. One guy who's brilliant and went to Delta State now works in our office. He's doing a penetration analysis on our security system in our office to make sure it's not easy to hack into the State Auditor's Office.
"He's doing this analysis and we'll figure out what we learn from it, where our vulnerabilities are and go to other state agencies and teach them what we've learned," White added.
Locally, the State Auditor's Office is investigating an incident where Oktibbeha County District 3 Supervisor Marvell Howard gave metal panels and beams from a bridge the county worked on to Walt Starr. Starr, who is a member of the State Institutions of Higher Learning Board, owns the property near the bridge and allowed the county to stage equipment for the work on his land. The metal scrap has been valued at about $3,000.
White told The Dispatch on Wednesday that he could not comment on ongoing investigations.
Board Attorney Rob Roberson said investigators have recently asked the county to determine the value of the weight of the bridge if it was priced as scrap, as well as the cost for moving the bridge. He said the county is working to gather that information.