IOWA CITY — Outgoing Johnson County Auditor Tom Slockett recently spent $58,000 more than his office was approved for to buy a couple of hundred pieces of voting-related equipment.
Slockett’s action appeared to circumvent the county’s budget and purchasing procedures, county supervisors said Thursday. Board of Supervisors Chairman Rod Sullivan said it was “downright deceitful.”
“In eight years here, I’ve never seen a more egregious thumbing of the nose of the budget process,” he said.
The county’s budget for the current fiscal year, which was approved by the supervisors last March, grants the Auditor’s Office $4,310 for five new computers for use at election precincts. Slockett asked for 70 computers during the budget discussions that took place nearly a year ago, but that request was denied in part because the information technology director said a new technician would need to be hired to service that many machines.
Last month, Slockett bought 70 laptops, 70 identification scanners and 70 printers at a total cost of $62,580, according to a copy of the invoice.
At the prices Slockett paid, buying five of each item would have tallied $4,470.
The purchase was discovered this week, Supervisor Janelle Rettig said.
Slockett, who is an elected official and the head of his office, handled the purchase himself, officials said.
Normally, a department head would have worked with the Information Technology Department on such a deal, officials said. Also, when county funds are used to buy something, a purchase claim is filled out and sent to the Auditor’s Office, which is charged with reviewing them. Those claims then go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval.
Sullivan said he believes that Slockett, as head of the Auditor’s Office, slid the purchase past the normal process. Sullivan said he has not spoken with Slockett about the matter and probably will not until the supervisors meeting next Thursday, “with recorders running.”
The supervisors rely on the Auditor’s Office to review claims, they said. They can get hundreds each week, sometimes totaling in the millions of dollars, and Sullivan and Rettig said it would be micromanaging for the five supervisors to examine each of them.
Rettig and Sullivan cast mostly ceremonial votes against the list of claims at the supervisors’ meeting Thursday. The Auditor’s Office’s computer purchase was among claims approved a few weeks ago and has been paid, but Rettig said Slockett’s action showed that the supervisors do not have proper control measures in place.
“Obviously, people can spend money how they want and not how it’s budgeted,” she said.
Slockett did not respond to two phone messages during the work day Thursday, and two employees said he was not in the office when a Gazette reporter went there in t he morning.
In an email last night, Slockett said he was in the office Thursday morning. He also questioned several parts of the Gazette story.
He asked how the Gazette received a copy of the invoice (it is a public record) and how the $58,000 number was arrived at (that is how much Slockett spent over the budgeted amount).
Slockett also noted that the board had approved the purchase claim.
He asked questions about an assertion in an earlier version of the story posted online that his office was over budget. Multiple supervisors said that, but the story was later updated to clarify that while the recent purchase exceeded what was budgeted, the overall budget of the Auditor’s Office may not be over.
“I don’t think a ‘he said, she said’ response from me has any purpose at this time,” he wrote.
Although Slockett overspent on that o ne line item for the computers, he could make up the difference by cutting back elsewhere and not be over budget for the Auditor’s Office as a whole, said Rich Claiborne, the county’s budget coordinator.
But Slockett did buy the computers with money from a different fund than the one the five approved computers were budgeted in, Claiborne said.
Supervisor Pat Harney said elected officials should be allowed to run their offices and make purchases if the costs can be absorbed elsewhere in their budgets. But he’s concerned about the apparent break from protocol with this deal.
“The outward appearance here was that it wasn’t out in the open in how it was done,” he said.
Rettig said the problem was that Slockett’s initial request for 70 computers was denied and he bought them anyway. If a non-elected department head did that, she said, she’d vote to fire the person immediately.
County Attorney Janet Lyness said she did not have enough information on the matter to comment.
Slockett has been Johnson County’s auditor and elections commissioner since 1977. He lost the June Democratic primary election after stories in The Gazette concerning questionable ethical practices by Slockett and displeasure from his fellow Democrats.
Democrat Travis Weipert of Tiffin is the only auditor candidate on the Nov. 6 ballot and is expected to replace Slockett.