Auditor hopefuls focus back on issues

Tuesday, October 31, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:35 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Negative campaign tactics are typically reserved for the last few weeks of election season. But with a week until Election Day, Sandra Thomas and Susan Montee have cooled the attacks that started early in their campaigns.

Soon after winning their respective primaries for state auditor in August, Thomas, the Republican candidate, and Montee, the Democrat, began accusing each other of negligence in their work.

Thomas is the auditor for Platte County; Montee is the auditor for Buchanan County and manages financial records for her husband’s law firm.

“I’d like to talk about goals for the state,” Montee said when asked about the recent sparring between her and Thomas. “But it’s hard to get people to focus on that.”

The accusations began just after a private audit report, released in August, questioned Thomas’ ability as Platte County auditor. The audit found that Platte County’s accounts had $195,000 less than the county’s records showed.

“I didn’t really know much about Platte County until then,” Montee said. “But I was asked to comment on the ($195,000) discrepancy in the Platte County books. So I did.”

Thomas retaliated with a statement accusing Montee of doing too little to investigate the resignation of Buchanan County Public Administrator Bonnie Sue Lawson. Client accounts overseen by Lawson were under investigation at the time of her resignation. Thomas claims Montee should have audited the accounts.

“What we’ve had here is a series of people saying ‘OK, we’re bad, but she’s bad, too,’” Montee said. “It should be about who’s better-equipped to be state auditor.”

But Thomas said it’s just a part of campaigning.

“I think that anytime you run a campaign, it’s important to talk about your own record,” Thomas said. “And it’s also important to talk about the record of your opponent.”

So what are the records?

Thomas has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from William Jewell College and a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is a certified public accountant and has been Platte County auditor since 1994. When she was elected at 28, she became the youngest county auditor in the state.

Her first priority if she’s elected auditor?

“The first thing I’d do is set up a four-year audit plan to look at areas like transportation, conservation, education, Medicaid and the court systems,” she said.

“These are the areas that the auditor should be focusing on.”

Thomas said that rather than conducting performance audits, which focus on the efficiency of state programs, “my focus is on where the money is spent.”

Thomas also said that, if elected, she’d like to explore areas that have had little or no inspection, such as workers’ compensation and the Missouri Gaming Commission.

Montee has an accounting degree from Drury College and became a CPA in 1985. She has served as Buchanan County auditor since 2000. She also has a law degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and she said that, if elected, she will be the first Missouri state auditor with degrees in both accounting and law.

Like Thomas, Montee said she wants to bring a financial focus back to the auditor’s office.

Montee said she thinks her background in both law and accounting can bring balance to the auditor’s office.

“Right now there’s a heavy emphasis in Claire (McCaskill’s) office on performance audits, which are important, but we also need to make sure that the money’s in the right drawer,” Montee said.

“My No. 1 priority, if elected, would be to work toward a balance between the two.”

Montee also said that she’d like to establish a liaison system to help counties in economic trouble.

“Right now 89 counties don’t have auditors, and those counties only get audited every four years,” she said. “If a county has a real problem, four years is a long time.”

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