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Klutz visits Frankfort ahead of election

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

Indiana State Auditor Tera Klutz visited Frankfort on Wednesday to attend the Tax Sale and meet with Clinton County Auditor Cathy Hamilton’s staff before traveling to see county auditors at Lebanon and Greencastle.

“I usually take a day or two every few weeks and visit the county auditors,” said Klutz, a registered CPA. “I had not been to Clinton County yet, so it’s an opportunity to see if we are meeting their needs. It is to get feedback. Sometimes you ask for feedback electronically or at big conferences, but they are not apt to to tell you things that they would face-to-face or when they are in their element at their job.

“I like to say the State Auditor doesn’t audit,” she added. “Part of our job is overseeing local tax distribution. We distribute income tax, excise tax and gas tax to all the local units. The counties collect the property tax and disburse it, however, our office still kind of oversees that process. It is important for them to know that we do the county reporting. We pay all the employees. We pay the vendors, but we have a big connection with local governments across the State of Indiana because we distribute the gas tax, which has been changing a lot lately with the new laws. Now it changes every year on July 1. It had been flat for so many years before. Knowing that we are getting that distribution correct means so much to the local units of government.”

Klutz spent time speaking with Clinton County Deputy Auditor Britt Ostler after introducing herself to other staff members.

“We talked about all of our job descriptions and what we do in this office,” payroll clerk Cheryl Martin said. “She was a very sweet lady – very nice. She let us know that she was (once) the auditor of Allen County and how large they were compared to our office here.”

Appointed by Governor Eric Holcomb in January of 2017 in order to fill the vacancy left by current Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch, Klutz is the first certified public accountant to hold the office.

“When you think of what we do, it really helps to have the accounting technical background,” Klutz said. “I used to do public auditing for PricewaterhouseCoopers. So, I would go into a company, review all of their financial statements and make sure that they are disclosing all of their liabilities correctly so that investors or banks that want to loan them money would have a true picture of their financial position. So, it felt natural that I am working for the public because I always kind of have.

“We have had great state auditors before,” she added. “They are good leaders, and they hire the people to get the job done. They are very smart. They just did not have the technical training to do it. So, I am excited to try this thing and see how it goes.”

Klutz says that she likes to stop at each community and speak with the local media in order to better inform the public of the nature of her office.

“When I talk to a lot of the people, they don’t realize that the state auditor doesn’t audit, and they think I am either going to audit their tax return or I am going to audit their unit of government,” Klutz said. “So, I’ll get taxpayers that say ‘hey, can you audit my township trustee?’ I just explain that my (title) 220 years ago was because I pay all the bills. Part of the auditor’s responsibility as the state’s chief financial officer is, if the governor hands me a bill, I am going to review it. That is where we got our name 220 years ago.

“I believe, if I get that message out, people will know what my office does when you go to the ballot and vote for it,” she added. “We are set up as a watchdog, naturally, because we are separately elected. A lot of times, in other states, this is an appointed position by the governor. So, the fact that Indiana has separated it is really good.”

In June of this year, Klutz’s office rolled out the new Indiana Transparency Portal with the intention of bringing ‘better visibility, openness and accountability to state government.’ On it, anyone can look up assets owned by the state, contracts entered into by state agencies and offices, state employee salaries, state finances, local government and school corporation information and information on vendors who do business with the state.

“When I got this job last year to take a two-year vacancy created by Susanne Crouch, who moved up to be lieutenant governor, I knew I wanted to do internal controls and enhanced transparency,” Klutz said. “We started by having stakeholder groups. We had watchdog groups, media and state legislature representatives as well as agency CFOs because I feel each one of those groups is going to look for something different from this transparency portal to do their jobs. It is just a great tool that taxpayers have at their fingertips.

“Transparency is a state of mind,” she added. “You either are, or you are not. So, our philosophy is we want get you the information – it’s your information – the fastest we can. If you still can’t find what you need, I have a transparency advocate in my office. His name is Jared Bond. He is my communications manager. He will help you through anything if you can’t find it.”

Since her appointment to the office nearly two years ago, Klutz has been busy implementing safeguards.

“I implemented internal control last year, and it is a long process,” she said. “Internal control, in simple definition, is ensuring that one person does not have complete control of a transaction from start to finish without any checks or balances. We have identified 300 procedures just in my office alone that we are reviewing, documenting and making sure there are adequate controls.

“One of the initiatives I got after I started was how much money the state spends on technology,” she added. “I picked up an initiative to make sure that we are unifying the state’s use and purchase of that technology. When you have 100 agencies trying to bring government services up, there is an opportunity for overlap. So, I want to insert my self in there to make sure that we are not duplicating purchases and we are not duplicating time. So, I sit on a six-member board created by the governor recently, and I am excited about that.”

Now, Klutz is running in the general election for Indiana Auditor of State against Joselyn Whitticker (D) and John Schick (L).

“I am running statewide for the first time, and that is a whole new ballgame,” Klutz said. “I think my public accounting experience and my local government experience has made me uniquely qualified for this position, and I am super-excited to continue my work there.

“I think I am the most qualified because I can do all of the technical stuff that I think matters so well,” she added, “These are administration jobs. It is not like you set a lot of policy in these positions, but people rely on you to make sure their paycheck is accurate and that the information that we have is accurate. I think I can add that extra level of expertise to the job.”