Chapman speaks to AARP chapter

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Holding state government accountable while holding true to hometown values is no easy challenge. However, it’s one a Camellia City native has chosen to take on.

State Auditor Beth Killough Chapman shared some of the challenges and successes of her office in a speech to the Greenville chapter of AARP on Tuesday.

The Camellia City native told those assembled she was &uot;awfully glad to be home&uot;. Chapman also expressed delight at seeing many familiar faces in attendance at the group’s monthly meeting, held at Walnut Street Church of Christ.

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&uot;I love this age group for three special reasons: you exhibit patriotism, you’ve had experience investing in your government – and you vote. Voting is truly a sacred freedom and one of the few we have left,&uot; noted Chapman, who expressed concern over the continued efforts of &uot;atheistic&uot; organizations to ban all references to God from public institutions.

&uot;I remember as a third grader at W.O. Parmer hearing a lady speak about the efforts of a certain woman to ban prayer from schools…we thought that would never happen.

Clearly, there are things we think people can’t do in this country that have already been done,&uot; she said, encouraging those present to &uot;pray for strength and backbone for our Supreme Court&uot; in their upcoming decisions on religion-related cases.

Keeping promises made

Chapman shared her office’s continuing efforts to help the state tighten its fiscal belt.

&uot;Politicians tend to make lots of campaign promises and we all know what happens once they get into office, don’t we? I made one pledge – to clean up government waste,&uot; Chapman said, adding, &uot;Not everyone in state government is accountable to our office – though I wish they were.&uot;

The amount her office oversees is a challenge considering the size of Chapman’s budget.

&uot;The state has one point six billion dollars invested in cars, computers and other items and we oversee that on a budget of six hundred thousand dollars a year – it’s tough, but we do it,&uot; she noted.

Running it like a business

The state auditor, who started her own business, Beth Chapman and Associates, LLC in 1996, says she has attempted to run her office &uot;just like a business.&uot;

Chapman, whose number one goal as auditor has been better management of the state’s budget during a time of crisis, explained her basic philosophy.

&uot;My motto is, don’t buy what you don’t need and don’t spend what you don’t have,&uot; Chapman stressed, adding, &uot;My goal is to better manage this state’s budget in this time of crisis.

Immediately upon entering office, she began looking for ways to &uot;tighten the belt&uot;.

&uot;We were able to save the state thirty-six thousand dollars in the first week in office…some people say that’s not much, but let me tell you, that is more than the average Alabamian makes in a year.&uot;

Getting citizens involved

She noted Alabama’s citizens have been very receptive to her office’s Campaign for Accountability, a program that encourages Alabamians to report cases of government waste to her office via telephone and the Internet.

&uot;We have been impressed with the number of people getting involved in this effort. We were recently able to save the state three million dollars in one case alone,&uot; Chapman explained, adding, &uot;I can’t share the specifics for legal reasons – but just letting these people know we were aware of what they had been doing made the difference.&uot;

Chapman is pleased to see more and more people involved in their state government.

&uot;We get calls from people traveling on the Interstate who get passed by a car with state plates going one hundred miles per hour…I report it,&uot; she said.

&uot;Incidents like that hurt a citizen’s perception of state workers – It implies they are above the law. Those cars they are driving are your cars – and you wouldn’t want anybody to drive recklessly in your vehicle, would you?&uot; Chapman added.

The state auditor noted there were incidents of government waste in Montgomery that would &uot;curl your hair.&uot;

&uot;There are plenty of laptops that disappear…the year before I came into office, eighteen state cars and trucks were reported missing – how do you lose a car?&uot; Chapman queried.

She later explained many of the &uot;lost&uot; vehicles actually turned out to be in a different place than usual on auditing day. &uot;It’s actually a case of mismanagement and plain ol’ laziness – no one bothered to do the necessary paperwork,&uot; said Chapman.

While Chapman believes most legislators initially come into office with the best of intentions, too many, she says, lose their focus on doing what is best for the taxpayers.

Holding on to values

She stressed she is determined to stick to her guns and continue to do what she can to control government spending and keep the state accountable to its citizens.

&uot;I learned you have to do what is right, regardless of what other people think,&uot; Chapman stressed.

She then shared a story with the crowd:

&uot;A man I once worked for told me he collected baseball cards as a child and loved trading them with other kids. But there was one card he simply would not ever sell or trade.

&uot;That was his Mickey Mantle card – his foundation card. He told me, ‘Look inside yourself, Beth, and see what your foundation is, your core values – those intangibles you would never buy, sell or trade. Look inside and ask yourself, ‘What is the right thing to do?’&uot;

Chapman believes her own &uot;core values&uot; grew strong in the nurturing environment of a small town – values that, for example, would not allow her to support a state lottery if and when the issue comes up again.

&uot;I believe a lottery is the little crack that opens a whole can of worms…thefts go up, DUIs go up,&uot; she noted.

Chapman plans to spend the next three years in office continuing to practice the values she learned growing up in Greenville.

&uot;My values came from this city – from the teachers who taught me in the classrooms, the Sunday School teachers at church, all the many people who touched my life. I won’t change my values because I am in politics – I just won’t do it,&uot; she firmly stated.