Saturday morning was the second time Pam Myhra, the Republican-endorsed candidate for the Minnesota State Auditor’s Office, has visited Hutchinson recently.
A few weeks ago she joined other candidates at a picnic hosted by the Greater Minnesota Republican Women. On Saturday she returned in her role as president of the Minnesota Federation of Republican Women for the summer board meeting at Squeaky’s on State Highway 7. The day was a small break for Myhra, who has been traveling across the state.
The State Auditor race is an open one, with Rebecca Otto not seeking re-election.
Myhra, her husband, and two of her three children are certified public accountants. Myhra formerly worked as an audit manager for KPMG, a global network of firms. She served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 2011 to 2015, representing the Burnsville and Savage area.
She said her focus in office was government transparency.
She sat down with a Leader reporter before the meeting began for this Q&A:
When did you decide to run for the auditor’s office?
“I was asked to run probably about 100 times over the last nine years. I would always say no. This last fall I was asked again, and I thought I should give it consideration. So I asked my husband, and he said, ‘You would probably be the best person to do this, because of your background.’ I had his support. I went to our Minnesota law. ... And I’m looking at the statute, and there are 25 pages that govern what the state auditor does. And quite frankly I started shaking, I was getting really, really mad. Not because I was a potential candidate, or because I was a former audit manager, but it was making me mad from the perspective of a taxpayer.
“There are problems in there. It hasn’t been updated. I realized because of my background … this puts me in the perfect place to work with the legislature and work with the governor to strengthen that statute and make it more effective oversight for taxpayers. Realizing I could be that catalyst, that I could make that difference, I decided to run.”
What changes need to be made? What is missing in the statute?
“The biggest problem, and a lot of people don’t realize this, I didn’t realize it until I was digging in a bit deeper: In the 1990s, the role of state treasurer was eliminated, and some of the functions of that were rolled into the state auditor’s office. And those are actually conflicting roles. So strengthening independence, because an auditor needs to be independent so when they give their opinion, it’s objective, people can trust it. The office is not supposed to be partisan.”
“You might be familiar with the lawsuit that was brought by the current state auditor against counties back in 2015. The legislature, the Republican House, and the Democrat Senate and Democrat governor, passed a bill to allow counties to be able to choose whether they could have a local public accounting private firm, or the state auditor come in. That was taken to three levels, up to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Supreme Court affirmed that the counties had that right. The Minnesota law signed in 2015 and passed in 2015 was constitutional. So now counties have the same ability to choose a private firm or the State Auditor’s Office.”
“One thing that lawsuit affirmed, the Minnesota Supreme Court affirmed, is that there is a very important responsibility on the part of the state auditor to have oversight. That has not been eliminated. So what the office will do is continue to do financial audits of some cities and some counties, pensions, TIFF bills, there is quite a bit. That Supreme Court ruling affirms the state auditor needs to do oversight over those private firms. That is right in line with government auditing standards. When I serve in that position, my role will be to lead the office, to set the tone, and to direct those financial audits. I would seek to make sure they are being done in accordance with government auditing standards.”
Auditor and treasurer responsibilities have been rolled together. Can you explain why that is concerning?
“I’m not advocating to reinstate that constitutional office of state treasurer. But some of those functions, particularly the (information technology), the auditors are not supposed to be in the IT process as well. An auditor is not supposed to go in and do the work, do the management work and come to those decisions, and then say, ‘Yeah, that looks good.’ Because, of course, there is a conflict of interest. Of course you will say your own work looks good. You won’t have that fresh perspective.
Who is auditing you?
“There was a situation in Dixon, Illinois. There was a city treasurer who embezzled over $53 million from a small community of 15,000 people. And it amounted to over $3,300 for each individual in that community. … When they went back to look at what went wrong there … the audit firm that went in there … they were buddies with the treasurer, and because they were so familiar, and there was a lack of independence over the years, they didn’t ask the basic questions.”
Should counties be able to hire private firms?
“I was not in the legislature when that bill was passed in 2015 … If I had been there, I would have voted for it. It provides a very important aspect of independence. Right now, the office of state auditor is performing some management duties, and giving opinions. That is a conflict, a challenge on independence. Absolutely I would have voted for that. I will not be revisiting it.”
“As a Republican, I see it allows for competition. It allows those county boards to be able to go out there and use their funds in the best way. I believe it is really important the state auditor have that oversight over those firms that come in, to ensure they are following generally accepted government auditing standards.”
You talked about the idea of the auditor’s office not being political, and about avoiding partisanship. But many non-legislative elected offices, including the State Auditor’s Office, have power over matters that could impact political goals. How do you avoid that conflict?
“I have taken the oath of the profession of being a Certified Public Accountant. One of the most important standards, an unconditional standard, is to be independent. Part of being independent is to leave your political views at the door, and not having that bias influence you. My opponent has publicly said she is going to use it as a soapbox to advocate for different political views. I will not. I am going to stay true to my oath of this profession. There are standards that are followed, and when you do those financial audits and performance reviews, there are political standards that are followed that should keep you from being partisan. I will not use it as a bully pulpit.”
How big of a role should the state auditor have in talking to legislators about issues that may need to be fixed in state law?
“This is exactly why I am going there. Because when I was reading those 25 pages of statute … there are a number of areas that need to be strengthened and improved. I want to go there and work with the Legislature, work with the governor, to advocate on behalf of the taxpayer so that function oversight is really strong to the benefit of taxpayers. I have already talked to many different individuals, and everyone I have spoken to has said, ‘I would be happy to carry your bill.’ I have been in the Legislature, I understand how the process works, which will benefit me as I am working with them. … I think I can be a really good advocate for taxpayers to improve that statute.”