Citing the lack of an official ombudsman or full-time public interest watchdog, state auditor Jim Zeigler announced at a meeting of the Chilton Tea Party that he plans to launch a new volunteer-based program within his office to investigate claims of waste, fraud and abuse within Alabama state government.
Zeigler spoke to ALToday.com shortly before addressing the conservative group, likening his new initiative to
“Nader’s Raiders,” the left-leaning group of reform minded led by Ralph Nader — except with a “constitutional conservative” twist.
Zeigler said he plans to gather teams of “citizen-researchers” — drawing from mainly from retired civil servants, accountants, attorneys, businesspeople and concerned citizens willing to lend a hand — to independently investigate reports of governmental malfeasance or wrongdoing, something he says he hears complaints about “nearly every day,” under the auspices of his office.
“People will email me, stop me in the grocery store or stop by my office with a complaint about something that’s not right in government,” Zeigler said over the phone on Thursday. “Without a professional staff to look into all of them, this plan is the best way I can think of to research these items and separate the sheep from the goats.”
Zeigler says he plans to arrange for volunteer experts to investigate claims people bring to his office and to recommend a course of action to rectify it, be that a lawsuit, complaint to the state’s ethic commission or even just a press report shining a light on a troublesome government practice to raise awareness and create more opportunity for public scrutiny.
“Since I have been elected state auditor, I can use the legal rights of a taxpayer as well as the platform of the auditor,” Zeigler explained in a news release last week explaining his proposal to become an essentially an Auditor General, responsible.
Zeigler said his plan to bring his citizen-researchers into the fold would help bolster that plan. He emphasizes that both aspects of his new reform agenda would be self-sufficient, able to proceed without a transfer of authority or an appropriations outlay from the state Legislature.
When asked if he would like to see someday the program inscribed in state statute, Zeigler said he would rather the volunteer claims research remain simply a policy of the state auditor’s office, insulated from statehouse influence.
Zeigler says the move would be an important step in increasing accountability, besides the work that his 10-person staff at the auditor’s office does in examining some $2 billion in taxpayer layouts specifically enumerated in state law. More needs to be done, he says .
“All these additional issues need to be investigated, and I feel the public agrees,” Zeigler said. “That’s why we’re asking for this all-volunteer army. It’s never been done before to my knowledge, and I think it has great potential.