INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Indiana is forming a coalition that will take aim at public corruption by training and educating government officials and drafting legislation intended to protect taxpayer money from malfeasance, the state’s attorney general said Tuesday.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller said the new Public Integrity Coalition that’s still being put together will be led primarily by groups such as the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns that represent local government officials.
Zoeller will also be a member, along with representatives of the State Board of Accounts — the state agency that audits government bodies when misappropriation of funds are suspected — and other state and federal officials.
One of the coalition’s first goals will be training and educating public officials from counties, cities, towns, townships and other local government bodies on the best management practices for handling public money to reduce the amount of taxpayer money that’s pilfered by corrupt public employees, Zoeller said.
“We may as well start with a bold mission, one that everyone can agree on — that we’re going to try to reduce the access to funds and the misuse of it through greater training and protections,” Zoeller said at a news conference at the Indiana Government Center.
Since Zoeller took office in January 2009, his office has sought to collect more than $11 million in public money that had been misappropriated.
Former state deputy auditor Doris Anne Sadler is coordinating the new coalition’s outreach effort as it works to solidify its membership. She said the group expects to have its first meeting in June.
The vast majority of government officials and employees are honest, but “the few that stray” give the public an unfavorable view of government, said Matt Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, which represents 569 cities and town.
Cal Bellamy, president of the Shared Ethics Advisory Commission — an all-volunteer group covering Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in northwestern Indiana — said the group works to prevent public corruption through education and training.
“If nothing else we’re removing the excuse that ‘No one ever told me that it was wrong,’” Bellamy said.
Indiana State Examiner Paul Joyce said that training in the best management practices for public money is mandatory for some county assessors across the state, but not for all of Indiana’s elected or appointed public officials.
Zoeller said the coalition will make recommendations on regulatory changes and legislation that could boost efforts to combat public corruption. He said those could presumably include a push to make such training mandatory, but it’s premature to say what the group will decide to pursue.
He said that one of the most common forms of public corruption involves officials who in essence write themselves checks from their office’s checking account — a malfeasance made easier in cases where the same person writes a check, cashes it and then accounts for those funds.
He said his office has encouraged officials to require two signatures on each check as best practice for avoiding theft of public funds.