Richard Urban Show #54
Learn about Mary Ann Claytor, her accounting experience and her take on improving how the Auditor’s office oversees expenditures of your tax dollars.
Excerpts from the Mary Ann Claytor Interview
Mary Ann Claytor Article
Mary Ann Claytor: Well, my name is Mary Ann Claytor, and I’m the Democratic candidate for West Virginia state auditor and happen to be the only candidate running for state auditor that actually has an accounting degree. Twenty two years of experience as a real auditor and have years of experience in governmental accounting. And I’m just so happy that you’ve asked me to come on so that everybody can get to know our candidates.
Richard Urban: Absolutely. So did you work for the State Auditor’s office or where did you get your experience?
Mary Ann Claytor: I worked for the West Virginia State Auditor’s office. I resigned in 2014 because my son became paralyzed from the neck down. I made the decision to take off so that I could take care of him. And during that time though, I started my own business doing financial statements for local governments. But he passed away in January after a long battle. But we were able to take care of him at home. And that’s something I’m very proud that the Lord gave us that ability and the knowledge that we needed under the circumstances, so that we could spend as much quality time as we could, and not have to put them in a facility. That was the main reason I left the Auditor’s Office, because I didn’t want to place him into a Facility.
Richard: Okay, wow, that’s beautiful. You could care for him like that. You mentioned you’ve been an auditor for a while. Do you have other qualifications you want to talk about?
Mary Ann Claytor: I have characteristics that really don’t have anything to do with being an auditor. I’m a preacher. I do prison ministry and nursing home ministry, which I haven’t been able to do at this time. I have a Bachelor of Science and Business Administration with a concentration in accounting. And I have a Master’s degree in religion.
Richard: Those are important things. You need a lot of integrity as auditor, right?
Mary Ann Claytor: Yes, you do.
Richard: I was looking into some of the things preparing for the program about some of the West Virginia programs, like the Mountaineer and the WV Checkbook. Things I hadn’t really paid attention to, which I need to. And also the purchasing card program, I noticed that was on the state and auditor’s site. What’s the purpose of that? Is that a good program? The purchasing card program.
Mary Ann Claytor: So Mr. Gainer, who was the former auditor, he started. So we have the state program, and we also have a local government program, and it has cut down on paperwork because they’re able to make their purchases instead of issuing checks, but you have got to make sure you have controls and you have got to make sure you have oversight in those areas. A part of our fraud section, what they used to do was to do audits of those P-card transactions. We have oversight within the office where they’re just kind of looking at those things, but it’s different than when you actually go out to look at the back up that is associated with a transaction that came through. Because Walmart; you might see a transaction comes through for a Walmart. Well, that may be an okay transaction, maybe they had to get some supplies or something, but if you actually go and you look at the invoice, then you would see that oh, they didn’t really buy supplies, they bought something else. So you still need those eyes on actual supporting documentation. I haven’t been able to find, since I left, on the website, we used to always post those audits of those P-card transactions online. I’m a type of person that I won’t say, Oh, this is definitely not been done, and I’m not attacking. I have to look at myself in the mirror. I lay out the facts and deficiencies. That’s the type of person that I am. And that’s the way I run my campaign. That’s the way that I would like to see everybody across West Virginia, United States, run their campaign. So we can really talk about the issues and talk about deficiencies that are going on in our government. But I’m not attacking a person’s character.
Richard: With the purchasing card, or you call it a P-card, are you saying that if you use the check system, then they would automatically see the invoice or not necessarily, whereas with a purchasing card, you might just see, Oh, Walmart $200 or… That’s not true? Is there more detail with the old system or is something lacking with the new system, or what?
Mary Ann Claytor: As far as transparency and knowing what people spent money for and actually seeing an invoice, we are still lacking in that. And that is something that I would like to institute. We shouldn’t have to have our citizens do FOIAs to see what an actual expenditure consisted of, other than, you can see the description. And plus, we spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the West Virginia Oasis program, and we need to hold those companies accountable for products that our citizens are purchasing. Because this is what we have to realize as citizens. It is that we are purchasing these products, even though we haven’t gave the approval for purchasing these products, but it is our money, so we have a right to know. So one of the things I would like to do within the West Virginia OASIS is try to combine some of the attributes of the Checkbook with the OASIS, because it is better if we have centralized accounting systems and that we are able to use the source information system to the best of its ability instead of extracting data and putting it into another program for people to see.
Richard: It sounds like that’s what the Checkbook thing is, right?
Mary Ann Claytor: Yes, it kind of extracts the data.
Richard: What is the OASIS?
Mary Ann Claytor: I was already gone when they really got it going. Some people may have known, before we had this Vista program where you can go and look up the expenditures, and then they decided, we had all these different financial accounting systems that different organization agencies were using, so they decided they wanted to do something centralized, which I believe is a positive move. We just need to go further with it and making it more transparent…
Richard: I was reading up about the Mountaineer and the WV Checkbook. One thing I noticed, because I’m interested in local issues, I’m over here in Jefferson County. And they’re not yet on this system. The county says it’s “awaiting data” for the Checkbook program [on the website]. Do you know anything about that? I see 12 counties are online and the rest aren’t. It says Jefferson County is “awaiting data”. Can you give us any insight into what that means?
Mary Ann Claytor: And I would have taken a different approach on this too. So your information is only, the transparency that we’re seeing from local governments, it’s only as good as the accounting records that are underneath. And like I had told you before, everybody has their own accounting system in local governments. I’m not for sure in Jefferson, if they have CSSI, which is a company or our Software Systems. But mainly there’s those two primary ones. I would have probably taken taking a different approach in working with those software companies to say, ‘This is something that we would like to do, so that entities can put their information out on their websites. The West Virginia Association of Counties set up a basic website for each county, also, for those who don’t have that. It just had some basic information, contact information, but most counties that can’t afford a website, they have a website that they’re active with, and also they’re required to publish financial statements with the vendor information, so we already have some transparency at that level. It’s extra work for the county clerks to extract this data out of their system in order for them to upload that into the Mountaineer Checkbook. So that may be the issue that they’re having. Some decided that they left it up to their county clerks, where in a lot of places, they are already low on staff, so you’re thinking, Okay, anybody that wants this information, they will give it to them. And with West Virginia, everybody doesn’t have internet, so everybody’s not going to be able to access it anyway. That’s why they publish them in the newspapers that the local people generally use, so that they can see that information…
Richard: I looked at Berkley County, which is online, and I couldn’t find the Board of Education, is that a whole different thing than the county?
Mary Ann Claytor: That’s a separate entity. The Board of Education as their own system too. And the thing about the Board of Education is all Boards of Educations have the same system. So, in that capacity, we could have worked with them to develop something where they could publish online if we want it to be online.
Richard: So is there any plan to get that into the Checkbook or that’s just excluded, the Board of Education?
Mary Ann Claytor: So it’s up to each entity to provide that information. So people would have to talk to them. And like I said, I don’t know if it’s such a big concern for our citizens, I really don’t, because if you’re local to that area, you understand, every year they see that they’ve published the vendors….
Richard: As auditor, how would you encourage being less wasteful? One thing, someone was telling me, who is in the federal government, that he works in the patent office. Say they had a budget. Say it was $20 million and then the fiscal year is ending. He said, Well, you know, if they find out, Oh gosh, we’ve got $3 million left, instead of saying, Oh hey, why don’t we cut our budget $3 million, they’ll try to use it up for something, I mean, not maybe illegal, but it seems to be wasteful. How would you encourage, when the right thing to do, would be to say, oh gosh, we could save the taxpayers $3 million. Hey, we’ll tell them, we don’t need so much money next year. But apparently what happens, he tells me, and you would know this better, being auditor, they try to use it up or something so they’ll get the same amount next year. Could you talk about that kind of thing?
Mary Ann Claytor: Yes, they have a mindset, ‘But if I don’t spend it, that they’re not going to give it back to me next year. Yes, I’ve seen people, buy a whole bunch of pens and pencils, and it’s not illegal. I have always been a type of person when I audited, I would ask questions about things that I thought were unusual. Because it’s hard, everybody has a different definition of waste. So the auditor really doesn’t have power to stop waste in a sense of saying, ‘you can’t buy that’. Now, what they can do is shed a light. And that’s basically what we do. And so, as your next auditor, one of the approaches that I would take at the state level is a lot of times we don’t hear about things until something gets leaked. I think it’s the auditor’s responsibility, that if there is something that comes up a little extravagant, maybe not, don’t nitpick about things, but if it’s something that is like the couch thing.
Richard: Oh yeah, the Supreme Court justices, right.
Mary Ann Claytor: So things like that, I feel like we need to let the public be aware and leave it up to the public to have the outcry that we need to do, to get the changes made. Because I always told people when I was auditing, I would ask the question. So they were a little more wary about making certain purchases because I was asking and I would always say, ‘If you do not feel comfortable going in front of a public meeting and asking to purchase these items, let that be your litmus test to not purchase it or to purchase it’. If you feel comfortable that everybody is going to know about this purchase, then make it. But our hands are tied by the laws and regulations of the state of West Virginia and Federal, as far as our stopping a payment. You see, and this is one thing I will tell you, I will not lie to anybody to get their vote, to let them think that I have more power than I have to be able to stop a purchase, because the purchase is legal. Extravagant, yes. But it’s legal.
Richard: So more transparency would be, I think what you’re saying. ‘Hey, somebody purchased the couch for $20,000 the last week of the fiscal year or whatever, you know.
Mary Ann Claytor: We as citizens, we have the power. They may want to make us believe that we don’t, but we have the power through our votes and through our voices throughout the year because we tend to… I don’t know, we are also busy with our lives and the things that are going on our lives that we don’t always pay attention. But we have got to get to the point that we do pay more attention and try to get more involved in what’s going on in our government, so that we can stop it before it gets too out of hand.
Richard: I think so. I think this whole, like here, that’s a huge issue, the school tax thing, it was passed in December five years ago, like less than 2000 people [actually 4585] voted for this mega-tax, and it literally jacks up your property tax 40 percent. Say I owe to $1000 in property tax. Well, now, because of the school excess levy tax it’s almost $1700. So this year though, a lot of people will be voting, it will be on the November ballot. But I think that exemplifies the point, a lot of people were asleep at the wheel when that thing went through, but I think now they’re probably more awake with a huge tax bills we’ve been getting here in property tax in Jefferson County.
Mary Ann Claytor: Well, it’s the same thing with the road bond, because that was a very… I can’t remember the numbers, but it was very low voter turnout [122,419 votes statewide, total]. That’s what people have to understand, that you’re letting a small number of people determine the outcome of governments by your staying home and not voting. I wasn’t really for the road bond because I’m not for taxation that increases to our most vulnerable population, because the workers, they had to pay more, because West Virginia, our demographics, it’s different than other places. So, you have people that are making minimum wage, barely able to take care of their families, and now you’ve got to pay more to get to work. And then we saw, it was supposed to be at lightning speed. We need this bond so that we can get the roads fixed at lightning speed. And then we didn’t get lightning speed. And we’re using COVID money for that, which is suspect. Not really that we’re using the Bond money.
Richard: COVID money for what are you referring to?
Mary Ann Claytor: The governor decided, we have some COVID highways, and so he’s going to use the Cares Act money to fix the roads, which he’s already started in Greenbrier County.
Richard: Oh, Greenbrier! What a coincidence. With his resort there.
Mary Ann Claytor: When the band went through, he was a Democrat at that time, and I spoke out because I said, I’m not for regressive taxes, wand that’s what people need to know about me is that I’m not just talking about this COVID money because I’m a Democrat, and he’s now a Republican. I would have talked about it anyway. Because that’s the type of person I am. I don’t care who’s in power, wrong is wrong. Right is right, no matter who it is. Because I’m getting a little tired of we’re silent when it’s on our team, and we’re vocal when it’s not on our team…
Mary Ann Claytor: The auditor is the official bookkeeper for West Virginia and also the supervisor of public offices, and in that capacity, in the state level is where we are responsible for the expenditures that go out, making sure, they’re in compliance. And then the local governments, we’re responsible for audits of those local governments. So when we were talking about the School Board, County Commissions, all the elected officials within those offices. And we’re also responsible for approving the budgets of local governments. We have a lot more duties that we do in regards to local governments than we actually do with the state level, and currently the audits are further behind under the current auditor. When you compare when the former auditor went out, if you just look at the county government, it was 11% behind in 2016. If you look at 2014, he was about 11% behind. He always had a problem with the municipalities though. But with the current auditor, it is now about 45% behind in that one category.
Richard: The category being counties?
Mary Ann Claytor: In 2018, yes. And so if you look at the 2018, so we need to be able to get in there and get those audits done. I’m more proactive than I believe he is. And that’s the difference I want people to understand, because one of my goals is that I will have visited with, on my first four years, each entity that we audit to assess accounting needs. Because, getting full transparency, that’s only as good as the underlying records. So we to be able to go in there and talk to the entities based on the resources that they have available, so we can get everybody’s books up to par. And my having the knowledge that I have, I won’t have to send staff in to do that. I will be able to assess those needs and talk to people and understand what they’re talking about. I think that’s the big thing, is not to have to have somebody sitting beside you, as a staff member, because you don’t understand the Accounting Information, which is something that I’ve garnered over through my education and through all the experience that I have. And so that’s one of the main reasons that I’m running for auditor. Because it’s about fixing the things that I know that need to be improved so that we all can work efficiently for the citizens, because that is what it’s about. I’m a citizen.
Just because you run for office doesn’t make you no longer be a citizen and have concerns. And that people would be able to talk to me, express their concerns, and I’m the type of person that will follow up on the concerns of the citizens. Because it’s not about getting elected in the next four years, it’s about improving, and if you do a good job, that’s when we should re-elect people, when they do a good job, not just based on other issues. That’s just the way I feel.