Since I rolled into this town six-plus years ago, any mention of Gary Hinzman’s name usually was tied to something innovative and positive.
Hinzman was Cedar Rapids’ police chief and then led the Sixth Judicial District’s Department of Correctional Services for 24 years before retiring last spring. The Gazette’s archives are dotted with stories of Hinzman launching initiatives, speaking out on the need for smarter corrections policies and winning awards.
Most of those initiatives were spearheaded by the non-profit organization he founded in 1991, the Community Corrections Improvement Association, or CCIA.
Maybe you’ve heard of Children of Promise, which provides support and mentors to children with an incarcerated parent, because research shows that the children of prison inmates face a higher risk of ending up in prison themselves. Some of those kids are now mentors themselves.
About the time I came here, the CCIA was building Lundby Townhomes on the southwest side where inmates re-entering society can do so while living with their families, because strong family connections lower an offender’s risk of ending up back in the corrections system.
Foster grandparents for at-risk youth, a Youth Leadership Program, “Weed and Seed” neighborhood efforts to weed out gang and drug activity are also on CCIA’s list. The organization helped find money to pay for multiple correctional services facilities, including one that bears Hinzman’s name.
This was the sort of stuff folks thought about when Hinzman was mentioned. In 2009, some of them even thought he’d make a good mayor, though he declined to run.
This also is why a report by the state auditor’s office released Jan. 10 landed here with such a resounding thud.
The report raised multiple red flags about Hinzman’s leadership and the district’s budgeting practices, particularly in fiscal years 2009 through 2012. Heck, some of the red flags had red flags. This past week, Hinzman responded.
“We were operating for a long time thinking we were operating correctly. The audit has said not,” Hinzman said in an interview on Thursday.
“I don’t think we made up our own rules. We were developing very innovative programs and we were using all the resources and everything we could to do that,” he said.
To make a 64-page audit report short, Auditor Mary Mosiman concluded that the budgetary relationship between the department of correctional services and CCIA was, basically, a financial bear hug. Corrections employees were working for CCIA, and CCIA employees were working for corrections, while also getting state employee benefits. CCIA used state vehicles and cellphones. The non-profit was housed in corrections office space rent-free. “Improper disbursements" from correctional services for CCIA functions added up to $563,000.
Mosiman contends that correctional services and CCIA should have been operating independently, with separate budgets, management and oversight. The bear hug should have been a bright line.
The audit also found that the Sixth District’s vacation and sick leave benefits exceeded benefits offered to other state employees. The auditor concluded these costs and others pushed the correctional services budget into the red in Fiscal Year 2012, along with vastly overestimated revenues that never materialized.
Budget information given to the 20-member board that oversees correctional services and its $18 million annual budget, was “frequently incomplete and/or inadequate,” according to the audit.
Hinzman doesn’t dispute that, but he said the district’s board believed that it had the authority to set vacation and sick leave rules. The Sixth District is one of three with more generous benefits, according to the audit, so the misunderstanding wasn’t isolated. Hinzman contends that revenue estimates were made in good faith, but were flat wrong.
“The point is, we don’t want to be sniveling or quibbling about anything, the only thing we want to do is point out that we believe we were doing the right thing,” Hinzman said.
The auditor is right that there should have been budgetary space between the CCIA and correctional services. The co-mingling of taxpayer funds with other dollars, overlapping oversight, sloppy record-keeping and other missteps could have opened the door to malfeasance. It’s happened in the past in Iowa, so the auditor’s watchdogging is welcome.
The good news is, in this case, that doesn’t appear to have happened. No money is missing. No one received lavish pay raises they didn’t deserve, or took money for personal uses. The county attorney is looking this thing over, but I’d be surprised if anyone is charged with anything.
The biggest chunk of improper disbursements to CCIA, $443,000, was calculated by asking top managers, including Hinzman, what percentage of their time they spent working on CCIA programs. The answers ranged from 5 percent to 50 percent. Hinzman said 25 percent. The auditor then calculated that portion of their salaries as dollars that should have been paid by CCIA. So improper pay sounds shady, but the real dispute isn’t over how much money the managers made, it’s over which entity should have paid the freight.
Again, the auditor is right about the prudence of separation. But anyone who knows about Hinzman’s record shouldn’t be surprised that there wasn’t any. He sees the CCIA’s mission as inseparable from the mission of the district’s correctional services. He didn’t see a problem letting the non-profit operate from facilities it helped build. The revelation that he and his staff didn’t feel the need to set up boundaries is consistent with Hinzman’s view of corrections policy, which is to both handle offenders in the system and work hard to stem the flow of potential offenders into the system, especially among at-risk youth.
“We thought our foundation was set up that way, to be in a public-private relationship with the Sixth District,” Hinzman said. “We thought we were supposed to share and support each other.
“We aren’t disputing anything (in the audit). But we can tell you that my senior managers worked 40, 50 hours a week doing their job. In addition to that, they managed these programs,” he said.
“Frankly, I think the foundation gave way, way more than it ever got,” Hinzman said.
The much bigger, troubling question now is whether it will keep on giving.
“I think the impact on the fund development for CCIA is going to be a killer for us,” Hinzman said. “Some of our traditional funders are still working with us and want to see a good outcome. But things have changed.”
Hinzman said he’s ready to get out of the way if that would help.
It also would be unfortunate if the broader message sent by this saga to corrections agencies, really any government agency, is that you’re better off steering clear of innovative ideas and approaches. Do the statutorily mandated minimum. Don’t complicate your budgets. Don’t rock the boat. Look what happened in the Sixth District. Play it safe.What happens next in the Sixth District will help determine if that’s the case. If new leaders can save the positives of Hinzman’s vision and keep CCIA’s programs alive while also navigating the necessary efforts to remedy his managerial and budgetary missteps, that will be a victory, both for corrections and for the community.