Awada says school districts need to be accountable

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The state auditor’s office oversees the finances of thousands of Minnesota cities, school districts and counties, and one candidate says providing information for the public is among the best ways to hold those local governments accountable.

Pat Anderson Awada, the mayor of the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan and the Republican nominee for auditor, stopped in Albert Lea this week and said the state’s school districts and other local governments could benefit from public reports on where taxpayer money is going. Especially in school districts where controversial tax levies go before voters, like Albert Lea, the public needs to know how schools spend money, she said.

&uot;Rather than all this mistrust out there that occurs, especially when you have a levy referendum, it’s important to sort of have an unbiased report from the state auditor,&uot; she said. &uot;Just to lay out the facts.&uot;

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School districts can release information now, but Awada said the information would be easier to interpret and that people would trust it more if it came from an unbiased state auditor.

&uot;The problem is a district can put it into any sort of format that it wants, so it’s not apples-to-apples against other districts,&uot; she said.

Under former auditor Arne Carlson, who later became governor, the office did a better job issuing public reports, Awada said, and it’s a tradition she would like to restore.

Another important responsibility of the auditor is to work with smaller local governments to provide help and suggestions where needed, Awada said.

As mayor of Eagan, she said she’s got first-hand knowledge of how local governments work, and she says local control and accountability are two of the key principles that should guide government.

Although her city doesn’t rely on local-government aid payments from the state as much as rural areas do, she said she recognizes the importance of that source of income. She said the prospect that the legislature might cut local aid could cause problems for cities if they aren’t given enough notice to plan a cut into their budgets, and said as auditor she’d lobby the legislature to make any cuts take effect at the start of the next budget year, not part of the way through.

Awada has been mayor of Eagan, the state’s eighth-largest city, since 1998, and served on the city council before then. She has been named as one of 23 &uot;Women to Watch&uot; by Business Journal magazine and made the &uot;40 under 40&uot; list in CityBusiness as a person with rising influence. The alternative newspaper City Pages named her the best mayor in the state for 2002.

The other candidates on the ballot in November will be DFL nominee Carol Johnson, Dave Berger of the Green Party and the Independence Party’s Dave Hutchins. The winner will succeed Judi Dutcher, who is retiring as state auditor.