March 9, 2009 Rotogram

NEXT WEEK – MSU’S NEW LEADER

Dr. Mark Keenum, Mississippi State University’s 19th president, will present his vision for the land-grant institution next week.

LAST WEEK

Invocation and Pledge: Peggy Buckley

Attendance: There were 129 members (39 exempt, 1 honorary) present, and 70 (16 exempt, 8 honorary) absent.

Guests and visitors: Bill Street of West Point was our visiting Rotarian. Members’ guests included Eric Hallberg of Larry Mullins and Myles Carpenter of Harold Knight. Guests of the Club were Bill Pope, Brent Henderson and Lisa Shoemaker of the State Auditor’s Office, Paul Sims  of the Starkville Daily News, Tim Pratt of the Commercial Dispatch, Jarred Reneau, Ambassadorial Cultural Scholar, and Taka Sato, Youth Exchange Student.

Rotary Minute: Victor Evans explained the Ambassadorial Scholar program.

PROTECTING MISSISSIPPI’S REPUTATION AND INTEGRITY

“In God we trust — all others we audit.”
– State Auditor’s office slogan according to Rotarian Gary Chism introducing our speaker.

“We’re your watchdog,” said State Auditor Stacey Pickering at the Club’s first March meeting. “We’re there to stand up for the taxpayers of this great state, to make sure that the dollars you pay are spent wisely and efficiently.”

Mississippi’s 41st state auditor detailed the work of his 150 employees (CPAs, investigators, office staff) who conduct  performance audits of every school district, every county, every municipality and every state agency.

Although the auditor regularly is called on to investigate allegations of wrong-doing, he finds most cases exonerate individuals’ reputations.

“I like to remind my staff that ‘facts exonerate as well as convict,’” said Pickering.

In some instances, the office has to recover taxpayers’ funds that have been embezzled, misappropriated or misspent. In just the past year, more than 1.8 million taxpayer dollars have been recovered.

Pickering asked his audience to focus away from the mechanics of his office and think about our nation and state which is facing negative times.

“We can choose how we view the world around us,” he said. “I want to encourage an optimistic point of view.”

The auditor’s list of positive points for Mississippi shows the state in better fiscal shape than in any other time in history. The list includes:

  • Balanced budget.
  • The $700 million deficit faced upon taking office was cleared within two years.
  • Reduced the amount of debt during the  last 5 to 6 years.
  • Paid off more than we borrowed.
  • Restored Rainy Day Fund to its full capacity.

Noting that it is easier to think negatively, Pickering reported that, in February, tax receipts were 9 percent below the budget estimate for this time of year. By law, the governor has had to cut budget by 5 percent across all state agencies.

“We are poised, as the economy comes out of recession, to provide a place for companies to locate in Mississippi,” said Pickering. “We are rated as one of most pro-business states in the nation.”

The onset of the Federal stimulus package will help the auditor to more closely monitor budgets across the state. Current financial statements of audit will be a requirement to even compete for stimulus funds.

Pickering cited the state’s management of hurricane recovery money as proof of the responsible manner in which the state can handle funds.

Following Katrina, 20 billion Federal taxpayer dollars came to Mississippi. The auditor’s office was responsible for investigating any potential fraud.

At the moment there are more than 150 open cases and more than 170 pending. There have been 28 convictions and no acquittals. Less than one-tenth of one percent of all the money spent on hurricane coverage was lost to fraud.

“That’s a pretty good track record,” said Pickering. “And, we’re only expecting $2.5 billion out of the stimulus package. I think we can handle it!”

Even before the stimulus situation developed, the auditor’s office had noticed a trend. Three years ago, 24 municipalities did not turn in an audit. Last year 33 neglected it. By this year, 77 had not complied. With the requirement to have audits on record to be competitive, municipalities are scrambling to comply with the law.

“We are trying to develop a rotation where every town, every school district will see someone from my staff at least once every four years,” he said.

WELCOME TO THE 2009 AWARD BANQUET

Master of Ceremonies: Chip Templeton, President

Invocation and Pledge: Richard Blackbourn

Introduction of Guests: Martha Wells, Vice President
Rodeo Community Service Project

Paul Harris Community Service Awards: Bill Parrish and Nellah Taylor

Service Above Self Awards: Jack Forbus and Loren Zimmerman

Distinguished Service Award: Ed Clynch

Cliff Dochterman Scouting Award: Brent Fountain

John Mitchell Rookie of the Year: Roy Ruby, 2008 Winner

Rotarian of the Year: Larry Mullins, 2008 Winner

Adjourn: Rotary Motto

Tonight’s Menu  s Fried Catfish s Baked Chicken s Tossed Salad with Dressings
Mashed Potatoes & Gravy s Vegetable Medley s Turnip Greens s Rolls
“Decadent Dreamy Dessert” Alamode!
Tea & Coffee

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