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Auditor’s Office is being evicted from Alabama State House

The Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama.

Friday, Alabama state Auditor Jim Zeigler received legal notice that the state auditors are losing their office space in the Alabama State House.

The working offices of the auditors have been in the State House since July 2007, but Zeigler has received notice that they will have to be out by September 30, 2018, the last day of the 2018 fiscal year.

The Alabama Legislative Council, which controls office space in the State House, legally notified Zeigler on Friday that his lease would not be renewed.

“This move is in order to expand the facilities available for legislative purpose,” the notice stated.

“We will look for new office space for our auditors,” Zeigler said. “There is no other option.”

The notice came just days after the Alabama Legislature ended its annual regular session, so there is no appealing the decision to the Legislature until January when they meet for a brief organizational session. The 2019 regular session does not begin until March.

Zeigler has been the most outspoken auditor in memory in Montgomery. Whether it was the widening of a roadway through Eufaula’s historic district; questioning the legality of Baldwin County’s school board using tax dollars to promote a yes vote in a referendum to raise taxes; to suing to block Governor Robert Bentley’s $130 million state built hotel and conference center on the beach in a hurricane impact zone; to attempting to subpoena Gov. Bentley for flying his alleged mistress around on the state jet; to pointing out the high number of missing state firearms; to objecting to Gov. Bentley’s decision to take the Confederate Flags off of the Confederate Veterans Memorial; to reporting Bentley for spending almost $2 million of tax dollars for a new governor’s beach mansion; to shining light on the failed STARS software the state wasted millions on; to suing to enforce the law setting U.S. Senate elections forthwith after a vacancy; to filing charges with the Alabama Ethics Commission against Bentley. Zeigler got more headlines than most state auditors receive. Zeigler’s efforts ultimately led to the Ethics Commission agreeing that crimes likely had been committed by the governor. Bentley pleaded guilty and resigned five days later once the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings.

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This outspokenness led to problems with the Alabama Legislature. At the urging of the Bentley administration, the Legislature passed state general fund budgets that cut his office budget by 28.5 percent. Zeigler’s staff was cut from 11 employees to just five-and-a-half. Even though the SGF had more money in the 2019 fiscal year budget, none of the auditors’ funds were restored.

“We have scrounged and saved every dollar” Zeigler said. “We have remained current on the audits of the 176 state agencies despite adverse circumstances. We will get through this latest disruption and obstacle and find new offices.”

Zeigler had declined his state car, laptop, cell phone, expenses of any kind and marble name plate.

For 126 years, the Alabama Legislature met across the street in the Alabama State Capitol building. During renovations to the Capitol building, they moved across the street to the State Highway Department building in 1985. The move was supposed to be temporary, but the Legislature never moved back because they picked up lots of office space from the displaced Highway Department workers. Why a legislature that only meets 30, normally short, days a year needs any office space at all is debatable, but apparently they need even more space.

The state auditor is a constitutional position created in the Constitution of 1901. The auditor was supposed to be an independent watchdog of the people’s money, but in 1939, the state Legislature took the auditing power of the Alabama State Auditor away and placed it under the Office of the Examiner of Public Accounts, which answers directly to the Legislature. Today, the auditors conduct state property inventories. Legislation was introduced in 2014 to restore the examiner’s office to the auditor, but that legislation did not pass.

Zeigler is running for re-election in the June 5 Republican primary, but he is facing two GOP challengers: Dr. Stan Cooke and Elliott Lipinsky.

The winner of the Republican primary will then face Democrat Miranda Karrine Joseph in the general election.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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