W.Va. agriculture audit harvests bad government

An editorial from The Dominion Post

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Most say we just reaped what we sowed in the state Department of Agriculture.

They won’t get an argument from us on that assessment.

Electing the same commissioner of agriculture, or any public official, for 44 years — 11 terms — is certain to lead to charges of corruption cropping up.

That goes for Democrats and Republicans.

Matter of fact, that goes for everyone, never mind your politics.

Incredibly, in at least several elections, Douglass actually polled more votes than anyone on the ballot, too.

Of course, there’s something positive to be said for incumbency, too, but recently we’ve forgotten what it was.

We ’re not sure what’s going to change this lemming-like behavior by voters, short of mandating term limits for every elected office on the books.

However, there’s another lesson we can harvest from this bad crop.

Call it accountability, transparency, holding their feet to the fire or what have you, but most of all, call for audits.

Audits are not susceptible to charming personalities, election-year promises or even special interests’ lobbyists.

As a rule, accountants don’t command a high social or moral status in our society.

They conduct audits in a dispassionate manner where numbers add up or not — and where fiscal faults or misdeeds are not explained away.

Instead, they are fully investigated and then recorded.

The legislative audit released Monday that uncovered a host of failings within the Department of Agriculture was such an exercise in accounting.

It documented everything from poor record keeping to fictitious travel expenses and a virtually exclusive loan program, that did not require collateral, forgave interest and didn’t sweat delinquencies.

Though there are no bills in the Legislature to create an independent accountability commission to audit all state government services, it’s a thought.

No one likes to have their expenses questioned, but when you’re spending someone else’s money, it keeps you honest. And if not that, lands you on the hot seat, in a courtroom, or worse.

This audit only came about after a new agriculture commissioner took office.

We realize audits are time consuming, expensive and can even be used selectively as a political weapon.

But the topsoil in all this is: We need to do more audits of state government and not just when someone retires or loses an election.

Like farming, where light, water, plants, time and soil, never mind sweat, combine to make things grow, government can also flourish in the right conditions.

However, absent checks and balances, and regular audits, it wilts on the vine.

Click here for The Dominion Post e-edition.

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