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August 31, 2014

State auditor candidates would change, expand the office

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Posted: Sunday, July 6, 2014 12:55 am | Updated: 1:20 am, Sun Jul 6, 2014.

Both of the men seeking the Republican nomination for state auditor hope to expand the role of the little-known statewide office.

Dale Peterson and Jim Zeigler will face each other July 15 in a runoff election for the office, which is responsible for keeping track of state-owned property. The winner in the runoff will go up against Democratic nominee Miranda Joseph in November.            

“I’ve got a plan to turn the state auditor into something that it is not at present, a monitor of how our tax dollars are spent in Montgomery,” said Zeigler, 66. “That’s not what it does at present.”

Zeigler, a Mobile lawyer, said he would like to see those auditor’s duties extended to tracing taxes.  

“When our tax dollars go to Montgomery, there is not sufficient accountability of how those tax dollars are spent,” he said.  

Peterson, a Shelby County llama breeder and former Birmingham police officer, said the state auditor should take over the duties of the state examiner, who has the ability to enforce laws pertaining to state property.

“The auditor’s office is impotent,” said Peterson, 68. “They can’t hold anybody responsible.”

On his campaign website, Peterson said the office is, at best, a ceremonial post, costing taxpayers more than $85,000 per year, plus benefits.

The limited role of the auditor has come up repeatedly as a theme in this year’s election for the office. Anniston lawyer Ray Bryan, once a candidate in the race, pledged to work to abolish the office if elected.

Actually changing the office could be a challenge for a new auditor, precisely because of its limited power. Zeigler said the position would grant him easier access to tax documents, which would help him detect when abuses of power occur. As an attorney, he could then file taxpayer civil actions.

“After I run the first taxpayer action, I will become a lightning rod for honest, hardworking, fair employees,” he said.

Zeigler, a University of Alabama graduate, ran unsuccessfully for state auditor in 2002. The candidate has filed legal actions several times against government officials, including a case involving the illegal distribution of extra paychecks, he said.

Additionally, he unsuccessfully filed ethics complaints in 2001 against then-governor Don Siegelman, who was later be indicted on unrelated charges.

Peterson rose to nationwide fame during his unsuccessful 2010 run for agriculture commissioner, when campaign ads featuring the candidate in a cowboy hat and carrying a gun went viral. He made headlines again last in 2012 after two arrests for alleged misdemeanor theft. He told The Star both instances were misunderstandings and said his attorney had advised him not to discuss them.

The state’s current auditor takes offense at the suggestion her office has little to do.

“This comment is not only insulting to me, but insults every state auditor that has chosen to serve the people of Alabama,” Samantha Shaw, the current auditor, wrote in an email. “As a constitutional office, we perform an important and essential function.”

In addition to daily responsibilities, the auditor serves on several state boards, including the State Board of Adjustment and the State Board of Appointments for Board of Registrars, she said.

Both candidates said they expect low turnout in the July 15 runoff, though Peterson said that was unlikely to affect the results.

Zeigler got 47 percent of the vote in the Republican primary, but not enough to avoid a runoff against Peterson, who received 24 percent. Despite coming ahead in the primary election, Zeigler said he would continue campaigning.

“We are campaigning as if we were behind,” he said. “In a poor turnout, anything can happen.”

 

 

 

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