Don’t sacrifice children’s program

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: January 24 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 2:34 am in
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By The Gazette Editorial Board

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As troubling revelations unfold surrounding the 6th Judicial District Department of Correctional Services and its affiliated non-profit, Community Corrections Improvement Association, we have a pair of strong hopes.

First, we hope that state officials carry through on vows to institute substantial changes and safeguards after a state audit showed more than $700,000 in 6th district funds — taxpayer funds — had been improperly spent. Much of that misspent money was disbursed to the CCIA, including $444,000 for payroll costs and $119,000 for office space.

Former longtime district director Gary Hinzman founded the CCIA, and the substantial overlap in leadership and management between the two organizations is at the heart of the disturbing budget mess. Co-mingling of state and CCIA funds, incomplete record keeping and a lack of oversight appear to have combined to push the district’s $18 million annual budget into the red. Pay raises, vacation benefits and other costs were approved even though the district couldn’t afford them. And it was Hinzman’s request in 2012 for an extra $800,000 in state funds that prompted the much-needed audit.

“The lack of appropriate fiduciary oversight and the failure to ensure implementation of adequate controls over budgeted expenditures resulted in the District operating in a deficit position,” State Auditor Mary Mosiman concluded in the audit.

The Iowa Attorney General’s Office is weighing the possibility of criminal charges. We think that’s entirely appropriate given the seriousness of the audit’s conclusions.

But we also hope that the valuable programs administered by CCIA, including the Children of Promise initiative helping children with a parent in prison, are not tossed aside amid efforts to clean up the management mess. CCIA’s efforts to provide important services and support to at-risk youth in our community are well worth saving as the state puts the district’s fiscal house in order.

Children already struggling with bad decisions made by adults shouldn’t be hurt again by this sad saga.

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