The Department of Legislative Audit turns from the crony-capitalist pork palace to the Mitchell Corn Palace. Auditor General Marty Guindon finds that Corn Palace management has failed to follow proper procedures and/or city rules in counting, securing, and documenting money from its concessions operations. Guindon's report finds sloppy contracting with performers, vendors, and sponsors. The report also alerts Mitchell officials to violations of municipal credit card and gift policies.
The Department of Legislative Audit presented its report to the Mitchell City Council last night. Mitchell Mayor Ken Tracy asked for Corn Palace director Mark Schilling's resignation at the beginning of the month. With the audit now public, Mayor Tracy says there's no evidence that Schilling broke the law or took money from the city.
Mayor Tracy notes that the investigation happened only because people spoke up:
The city asked the state for the audit after Tracy was informed by multiple sources — including Mickelson, the assistant director of the Corn Palace — who he said told him there were certain procedures at the Corn Palace that needed review.
“I appreciate the fact that those people had the guts to come to me and tell me what was going on,” he said.
Mickelson has since taken over for Schilling on an interim basis [Chris Mueller, "Mayor Uncertain If Schilling Stole Money, Committed Any Crimes," Mitchell Daily Republic, 2014.03.18].
Schilling took one questionable trip to Las Vegas in November 2012. Solo counting of the till and other sloppy bookkeeping may have been going on for longer than that. It thus took over a year for the information to come out. But it came out, because other employees saw what was happening and felt they should and could voice their concerns to someone up the chain of command.
The DLA's report on the Corn Palace parallels its audit report on the Governor's Office of Economic Development in one important way. Each report identifies as a fundamental problem the lack of oversight leaving lone actors too much leeway to err or malfease. But where Mitchell employees apparently felt comfortable raising their concerns, the Eide Bailly review of GOED internal controls found that GOED employees were not sufficiently aware of the channels through which they could report suspicious activity without fear of retribution.
Preventing mistakes and abuses in any organization, public or private, requires putting more sets of eyeballs on every operation. Catching errors and abuses requires that honest eyeballs turn to voices when necessary. Mitchell can be glad its Corn Palace voices spoke up. South Dakotans should continue to wonder why more voices in Pierre haven't spoken up about mistakes and malfeasance in the Governor's Office of Economic Development.