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The state’s top financial watchdog

Rachel Riddle of Prattville was named the chief examiner for the Alabama Department of Examiners of Public Accounts in June 2018, becoming the first woman to hold the position, and the first new person in that position in 37 years. No stranger to state government, she worked as an analyst and fiscal officer for the Legislature for several years and holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Alabama and a law degree from the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law. 

She took time to answer a few questions for Alabama Living about the job, and it became quickly apparent that she is very passionate about it and is eager for the public to know more about the department’s important work. –Lenore Vickrey

What was your biggest challenge coming in as Chief Examiner?

Opening lines of communication and educating auditees, government officials, and the public at large. From the onset of my appointment, I made it my mission to try to educate other government officials, as well as the public, about our department. It was surprising to me how little people really knew about what our department did. While yes, we are the governmental entity that keeps an eye on the public’s money and how it is spent, we do so much more. The department conducts audits that allow for the flow of federal funding to state government, as well as local governments, colleges and universities, and local boards of education.

Previous articles have noted that a reduction in staff has been a challenge and that you wanted to rebuild. How is that coming along? 

Being around government long enough, I knew money or funding alone was not going to fix our staffing and delinquent audit issues. I knew coming in that I was going to need a plan.  Upon taking over as chief examiner, I assessed past and current staffing levels. We decided the department didn’t necessarily need to strive to get back to previous staffing levels and could perform the required duties with approximately 60% of prior cut in staff. After this assessment, I came up with a two-year plan to rebuild and move forward. The Legislature, through the department’s Oversight Committee and the appropriations process, graciously provided the first year’s funding needed to implement the plan. As we go into the fiscal year 2020 session, I will be asking for the funding necessary to finish implementation.

Were you able to hold the training sessions for board and commission members that you wanted? 

Yes, the department has restarted training for all state board and commission members and their staff. My hope is to spread these types of trainings to other categories of auditees in state and local government. We have had nothing but positive feedback from this initiative. I personally have even had individuals call and email asking if they could come and just listen because they had heard the training was so useful.

Why is it important that our state have a Department of Examiners of Public Accounts?

It is the government entity charged with making sure public funds are spent legally and appropriately. As a legislative department, we are the check on state and local government entities. Without the audits and examinations performed by the department, there would be no one analyzing how the public’s tax dollars are being spent.

We are also the department that provides expertise when public funds are thought to be misspent, mismanaged, or stolen. In addition to being the check on all forms of government, the department also provides required audits for the federal government and bond issuances and covenants. This is a service that many do not know that we provide. These audits are essential to the continued running of government at the state and local level. Recently, we have been educating the public on the presence of our department, hoping to provide some reassurance that there is someone out there looking.

What motivates you to get up in the morning?

First and foremost, I get up to fulfill my purpose to the ones I love the most. My husband and 3 young children (ages 7, 3 and 8 months) really drive me in all I do. As far as my work goes, I truly have a passion for this state and working with the Legislature. I feel that in some little way that this is my contribution to make our home a little better for us and those that come after us.

How do you wind down?

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to wind down from a hectic day. My husband, kids, and I are a very active crew and love being outdoors. The best winding down I get is when I am able to get outside and play with the kids, dig in the flowerbeds, work out or just sit and enjoy nature.