As 2018 closes, State Auditor Jim Zeigler says that his office, which he calls “the watchman for the people” suffered adversities in 2018, but overcame them with solid improvements.
The biggest setback was when the Auditor’s staff were kicked out of Alabama State House. In April, the Legislative Council notified Zeigler that his staff must move from the State House, where they had historically been. The auditors were told to get out but did not provide any place to move to.
Zeigler said that the eviction may have ended up being a blessing in disguise; because Zeigler located vacant space which the Alabama Ethics Commission needed to sublease. Zeigler negotiated an agreement with Ethics Director Tom Albritton and RSA Chief David Bronner, who owns the building. So now, Zeigler’s staff is housed with the ethics commission. Zeigler’s staff is now inside the ethics commission offices.
The 2018 audit results were so good that Zeigler said he might doubt them if they were conducted by any office beside his own.
Zeigler’s annual report for the fiscal year 2018 showed losses of .086 percent of total state assets of 238,557 items.
Zeigler’s staff conducted a property inventory of 45 agencies in Fiscal Year 2018. 35 agencies scored perfect audits, with all items of state property accounted for. 10 agencies had losses of 206 items valued at depreciated cost of $376,322.76.
The state Auditor is required to submit an annual report. The inventories state items valued at $500 or more and certain “sensitive” items, such as data devices. Typical items are state vehicles, computers and furniture. There are 176 state agencies subject to the state Auditor’s jurisdiction.
“The new safeguards we are putting into place are paying off with less loss of state property,” Zeigler said. “Accountability works and re-pays for its costs many times.”
Zeigler was highly critical of Governor Robert Bentley (R) and Bentley retaliated with dramatic cuts to the state Auditor’s office. Due to those last two Bentley Administration budgets, Zeigler was operating under Bentley cutbacks for most of 2018.
“We have remained current on state audits despite having our staff cut in half and our budget cut 28.5 percent by the final two Bentley administration budgets,” Zeigler said. “Thankfully, about half of the Bentley era slashes were restored to us under the first Ivey administration budget. The half-restored budget just went into effect October 1.”
Zeigler sponsored the 50th anniversary event remembering the death of Gov. Lurleen Wallace (D). Two weeks before the May 7th 50th anniversary of the death in office of Gov. Lurleen Wallace, Zeigler discovered that the Alabama Historical Commission was planning nothing in commemoration. He and Assistant Auditor Hope Scarborough went to work and organized a moving ceremony. It was held in the rotunda of the capitol building in front of the marble bust of Lurleen Wallace. Members of the Wallace family, friends, media and the public attended. Daughter Peggy Wallace Kennedy read a poem and the 1968 eulogy from Lurleen’s Bible. Lurleen Wallace was the first woman in Alabama history to serve as Governor. She was also the last governor of Alabama to die in office.
In July, the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed the remainder of Zeigler’s lawsuit against a $47 million unbid contract for STAARS accounting software. After Zeigler sued in 2017, the state canceled the remainder of the contract, about one-fourth of it. But Zeigler continued to seek restitution for state taxpayers from the vendors who sold STAARS to the Bentley administration without going through the required bid process. The court ruled Zeigler cannot seek restitution.
Zeigler also hosted a Second Amendment Rally. When leaders of two gun rights groups asked permission to hold a rally in April on the state capitol grounds, they were surprised to learn that they must have a statewide elected official as host. One call to Zeigler did the trick, and the rally was set. 150 citizens heard speakers talk about recent infringements on gun owners rights.
Zeigler told the group that the state capitol grounds belong to the people, and they should not need a politician to sign on as host, but that he was honored to do so. He also said that rules banning guns from the rally site were “ironic and unconstitutional.” Zeigler said that the no-guns policy is an infringement on the second amendment’s ending provision, “shall not be infringed.”
Zeigler was awarded a second term as auditor by Alabama voters. Zeigler defeated two Republican primary challengers without a runoff and won the November 6 general election with 60.5 percent of the vote receiving over 1,015,665 votes.
Zeigler is now term-limited and cannot seek the auditor’s job again. He has recently officially formed an exploratory campaign to possibly seek the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Doug Jones (D).