What's the news in positive audit?
Whiteside County Board member Glenn Truesdell is proud of the county's finances.
He has good reason. The county is enjoying a budget surplus this year, a far cry from Lee County, which has been in the red for years.
At the recent County Board meeting, he lamented that our newspaper didn't publish anything about the positive annual audit the county recently received.
"I don't thank you for that," Truesdell said, looking at me.
I replied, "Dixon had audits."
I shouldn't have spoken during a meeting; as a reporter, I'm an observer.
But I couldn't resist making the point: Dixon had clean audits for years, yet we all know what happened – Rita Crundwell, the city's former comptroller, is now accused of misappropriating $53 million over two decades.
We don't usually report on audits. I've never covered a government entity that didn't get a positive annual audit.
Now, if an entity got bad marks, we would cover that. That's not a case of the media always being negative. It's about what we do for a living – reporting the news.
Where's the news in our public bodies following standard accounting procedures? They're supposed to.
At my work, my bosses require me to list what stories I'm working on in the daily newsroom budget. I won't get any recognition if I follow that procedure. It's what I'm supposed to do. It's what helps make our newsroom work.
If I don't list my stories, however, I'll hear about it. And I have, which is fair.
We reporters shouldn't only write stories when government messes up. We should report when it goes the extra mile. In recent weeks, we found that the Whiteside County coroner's and treasurer's offices have smaller budgets than Lee County's, but have more work to do. That's efficiency – a positive story for Whiteside taxpayers.
But what do audits tell us. Usually, not a whole lot.
Dixon's case is the best example of that. But I'll tell you about a couple of other instances of the futility of audits. At another newspaper, we found through a public records search that a school district had spent nearly $10,000 on an adults-only, invitation-party. This was done with federal funds that were meant for the classroom. Our coverage led to a conviction a couple of years later.
Yet the district always had positive audits.
In another instance, we found that a school district had a slush fund that included hundreds of dollars worth of goodies for state lawmakers, including leather jackets, dinners and beef jerky. That was with taxpayer funds.
Again, all the audits gave clean bills of health. (After our coverage, the state auditor's office came down on the district.)
So why should we do a story on Whiteside County's recent positive audit? Every other local entity, to our knowledge, has one, too.
And if one doesn't, we'll make sure to report it.
Sauk Valley Media reporter David Giuliani covers the Whiteside and Lee county governments, Morrison and other smaller communities. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525.
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