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State auditor faces first state-wide campaign

LET'S TALK: Indiana Auditor Tera Klutz talks about the circumstances that led to her appointment to the job. Klutz, who was appointed by Governor-elect Eric Holcomb in 2017, is the first certified public accountant to be the state's auditor.

By Clay Winowiecki - cwinowiecki@chronicle-tribune.com

More than a year into her role as state auditor, Tera Klutz continues her journey to improve transparency and internal controls in state and local government.

Now, faced with her first-ever state-wide election campaign, she is campaigning to keep her position and see her goals through. Klutz was appointed as the 57th state auditor by Gov. Eric Holcomb in January 2017. She replaced Suzanne Crouch, who was promoted to Lt. Governor of Indiana. Klutz is the first certified public accountant to hold the position of Indiana’s chief financial officer.

A year into office, Klutz is well into her election campaign. During the week she works her day job as state auditor, on the weekend she campaigns.

The state auditor is one of five jobs in the Indiana government that is protected by the constitution. The constitutional duties include completing the accounting and reporting on the state’s finances and assets. Klutz is also responsible for paying 30,000 state employees and 80,000 vendors.

“I think being in charge of 30,000 people's payroll checks is a huge responsibility for the state auditor and one that I don't take lightly,” Klutz said.

While the task is unsurprisingly daunting, the technological age poses a new threat: cybersecurity. Klutz’s office holds social security numbers for all state employees and vendors. This creates a risk for hackers to steal highly sensitive information.

“It's about making sure we have secure networks and data, at the same time we're trying to bring Indiana to the next level,” she added.

Klutz must also distribute tax revenue to local governments such as county auditors and works with distributing state pensions.

In this year’s campaign, Klutz is running against Democrat and former Marion City Council member Joselyn Whitticker. Whitticker is attempting to become the first Democrat voted into the position of state auditor in three decades.

Klutz feels she is more qualified for the position of state auditor than her opponent.

“I had no idea I was going to be in this position 20 years ago, but the experience I’ve had at a public accounting firm auditing and then in local government dispersing property tax money, calculating distributions and doing financial accounting reporting have uniquely qualified me for this position,” Klutz said.

Before being appointed to the position of state auditor, Klutz served as the Allen County auditor in Fort Wayne. She was elected to the position in 2010 and won re-election in 2014. Before her role as Allen County auditor, she served as Allen County’s chief deputy auditor for eight years. Before then, Klutz worked at the public accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

One of Klutz’s main initiatives as state auditor is to improve internal controls.

“Making sure that one person does not have responsibility or control of a transaction from beginning to end without anybody else reviewing that,” Klutz said.

Another initiative is to enhance financial transparency through the new and improved Indiana Transparency Portal. The online portal allows citizens, local governments and media personnel to see every financial transaction that goes through the state auditor’s office.

The portal harbours key financial details such as spending on road construction and spending from the Indiana Finance Authority, the vehicle the state uses to pay its debt.

Another highlight is salary details. Viewers can see information on all public salaries, including school district workers and local city and town governments.

“In my opinion, you always have to disclose your salary,” Klutz said. “You're getting paid by the taxpayers, so it's a no-brainer. If you don't like it, you do have the choice to work somewhere else.”

Since taking office, Klutz has made the portal more interactive and worked to improve the viewer’s ability to make sense of all the financial data using simple charts.

In June, she unveiled a months-long update to the Indiana Transparency Portal in which the latest data analytical tools are used to showcase the state’s financial data.

Klutz has worked to unify the state's purchase of technology. There are more than 100 state agencies, according to Klutz. Each agency has technological needs and Klutz is working as a connector so state agencies can work together to share technology, thus saving the state money.

One of those who worked closely with Klutz before taking state office was Grant County Auditor Roger Bainbridge.

“I knew (Klutz) pretty well, and she and I worked together fairly closely on several projects,” Bainbridge said.

Over the past four years there have been four different state auditors. This must have made it tough for anyone to assume the position of state auditor after so many administration changes, according to Bainbridge.

“I’m sure she was quite challenged, and I am very impressed with how she pulled it together,” he said. “She was a good choice (for state auditor)."