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State auditor hands Conservation Department low grade

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State Auditor Nicole Galloway yesterday delivered a subpar audit to the Missouri Department of Conservation, largely citing improper expenses.

The audit details more than $120,000 in additional benefits given to former MDC Director Bob Ziehmer, who resigned in July 2016. He was paid for compensatory time earned during his 20 years of employment, as well as annual leave, holiday pay and insurance premiums. According to the audit, there is no documentation supporting such a payout.

“Missouri is well known across the nation for premier outdoor opportunities, making the work of the Department of Conservation an important part of our economy,” Galloway said in a news release. “It’s crucial that officials ensure every dollar spent has value for Missouri taxpayers by supporting their mission.”

The MDC received a fair rating, which is the second-lowest grade available. Fair indicates the entity needs to improve in several areas immediately.

In its response, the MDC said last year it underwent a review of compensation and benefits, including paid leave, and took steps to address comp-time balance concerns. Department officials say the existing policy would be “replaced with a new leave category for staff that will be expunged on an annual basis and will not be paid out upon termination or retirement.”

Other areas of concern in the audit were:

  • questionable expenses related to flights for commissioners and employees;
  • misclassifying re-employed retirees;
  • not establishing limits for travel meals; and
  • not complying with statewide contract pricing related to real estate appraisal services.

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