Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand pulled up the proverbial boot straps when he took office earlier this year.
And boots can be worn with jeans – and that’s fine by him for his employees.
“It’s a challenge to keep younger employees on board,” Sand said during a stop Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Ice House restaurant in Clarinda.
The challenge was based on his department’s 20 % turnover in staff.
“We had not kept up with the times,” the Democrat said about the changing workforce and labor pool.
Sand explained his strategy of making a better workplace creates better employees. And better employees will make a more productive auditor’s office. In the past, the office staff was allowed to wear jeans only on Fridays but pay a fee which went to the office party fund. He allows jeans throughout the week.
Sand is working on doing more for his staff to provide better accounting and oversight of the use of public funds. A reason for not being able to retain more staff members was the job’s usual requirements of travel, which he estimated at least one-third of the time.
“That sucks,” he said. “We need to make changes so they can spend more time in their own bed.”
After a certain amount of experience has been gained, Sand will consider having his employees live and work in other towns in the state and not have to always be in the Des Moines office. Those employees can live in other towns and be able to do audits for municipalities and school districts in their area.
“Travel is expensive,” he said. “The millennials see the job as a lot of travel and no jeans, and they leave.”
Sand said there is an expense to training new employees, money that should rather be spent on the office’s duties.
“Let people live in Clarinda and work on local audits in the area. Let them live in the place they may have grew up or a place they want to be in,” he said. “There is no need to live in Des Moines.”
Sand expects his strategy to have some challenges. He needs to ensure employees have adequate Internet service to connect to the state office. He also wants his employees to have not missed any critical information from the audit site before possibly needing to return to Des Moines for further research.
The 37-year-old Democrat from Decorah is also encouraging public entities to find and share ways they have saved for the taxpayer.
Calling it “pie” Sand said the acronym is public innovations and efficiencies.
Using a chapter in Iowa Code, Sand said his office can make efficiency-related improvements to operations. And he wants other public entities in the state to think the same way.
“It can be something very basic, common sense to save money,” he said. “If we can save at the local level, tell us and we can spread it to the rest of the state.”
Those suggestions could be as changing office light bulbs to ones that use less energy.
Sand and his office will create a program to have a name, email address and phone number from every participating public entity who has ideas they want to share.
“I want to encourage folks today what we ought to do,” he said. The address and phone number may be handy for ideas that are complex and need some explanation.
Sand will categorize each entity based on size. For example, he said because of the different number of employees in Clarinda City Hall compared to Des Moines City Hall, the result of the cost-saving measure is not expected to be the same.
The towns that saved the most over a certain amount of time, will then be rewarded.
“If Clarinda saved the most of towns of its size, it ought to get recognition for that,” he said.
Sand said the amount of money saved by a city hall, for example, could be used for another city project that may need a few more dollars to be implemented. Maybe a city park needs new picnic tables or a city baseball field needs some new infield dirt.
“It’s the little things that make a difference in a quality of life,” he said.
Sand said he has monitored Medicaid fraud and how Iowa has used private health insurance providers to administer Medicaid, the government’s health-care plan for those in financial need. Sand said he is aware of the criticism of privatizing Medicaid. To assist his office, he has added staff that has law enforcement background to improve investigations and to determine appropriate evidence.
“Having them in our office is a big deal,” he said.