I-Team: State Auditor spending

November 17, 2009 5:47:24 PM PST
The North Carolina State Auditor's Office is the agency tasked with being the watchdog that investigates waste, fraud, and abuse in state government.Beth Wood leads the office, and vowed before her election to watch how every tax dollar was spent. But her own spending prompted an anonymous letter from someone who works in her office.

In part, it reads: "State auditor planning to spend $10,000 on touchy-feely training." And, "Wood vowed before the election that she was going to watch how every tax dollar was spent - evidently that doesn't apply to the state auditor's expenditures."

"What do you make of this letter?" ABC11 Eyewitness News I-Team investigative reporter Steve Daniels asked Wood.

"That is a disgruntled employee," she said. "And obviously doesn't understand what we're trying to do here."

Wood was elected state auditor a year ago. In June, she hired Dr. Marla Sanchez - and Spectrum Development - to conduct a three-day seminar - most of it at the McKimmon Center in Raleigh.

The training was billed as "a fun and exciting method for helping people better understand themselves and others."

It was the second time Sanchez has put on a seminar for the auditor's office. People learn their "personality type" - and are grouped by color - gold, blue, green, or orange.

"It teaches you, in a very simplistic way, how people behave the way they do. Why people react the way they do," Wood explained.

"What color are you?" Daniels asked Wood.

"Orange," she responded. "With a close gold and then green falls in behind that. And blue is out to the right."

"So you have a zest for life, high regard for your own freedom as well as other people. You're free-spirited, fun-loving. Live life to its fullest. You seek action and excitement. That describes you pretty well?" Daniels asked.

"It does," Wood responded.

ABC11 filed a public records request and discovered three days of training cost taxpayers nearly 10-thousand dollars. Wood says the auditor's office has a high turn-over rate, and the training is a way to get her people to work better together.

"Are you saying this was a good investment of taxpayer money? Is it going to save money in the long run?" Daniels asked.

"Absolutely," said Wood. "If we can get them working independently and meshing in a team environment and they become satisfied where they are, then hopefully they'll stay."

Landie Vance wishes she could've stayed. Just days before the training seminar, she learned she was getting laid-off from the auditor's office: a victim of budget cuts. She was a state employee for 23 years.

"You don't need to have someone who has already been and done the same training session that has been there before," she offered. "It was very much a waste of taxpayers' money."

Wood says her a staff members are required to get continuing professional education every year, and this training was much less expensive than other alternatives.

"You were elected to be the taxpayer's watchdog. Was this an appropriate use of taxpayer money considering the recession? Considering the state government can't pay its bills right now?" asked Daniels.

"It absolutely is," said Wood. "I have a certain amount of dollars allocated to training and because the training in the state auditor's office is required, not elective."

"We can spend that money for whatever training we believe to be necessary," she continued.

"Are you seeing your results in the rainbow of people you have here working better together?" asked Daniels.

"It absolutely is. We can be in a conversation and we'll be talking about somebody's behavior and somebody will pipe up and say, "But remember now, they're blue." Yeah, you're right, okay. So how do we handle that? Or, you know, this person is so gold," Wood explained.

"And what we learned is the more cohesive, the more people that understand about one another, the more cohesive the team is," she continued.

Landie Vance is one of three people who left the auditor's office during layoffs. ABC11 launched its investigation after getting an anonymous tip.

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