JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – 193 miles. That’s the distance that Republican candidate Kevin Roach walked back in May, his personal mission to prove a point to the University of Central Missouri about the importance of transparency.
Roach, a Ward 2 alderman for the City of Ballwin, spent the better part of two weeks and some change walking alongside the road before making his way to UCM’s campus, where he spoke with leaders about their decision to make budgetary documents inaccessible to the public.
Roach may come to the state auditor’s race as one of the lesser-known candidates, but his campaign promise of reform and revamping the office is one that has found some strong grassroots support with Missouri voters.
The Washington University graduate who became the owner of both real estate company and a software development company, Roach has been hitting the road hard and heavy as the August primary draws near.
In short, Roach wants more transparency in government, and he believes that as state auditor, he’s the man with the plan to get it done.
Roach has been perhaps one of the most critical opponents in the race when it comes to Democratic incumbent Nicole Galloway, but his calls for change go further than that. Much further, in fact.
According to him, the last time that the state auditor’s office received any modernization or upgrade came under the administration of Christopher “Kit” Bond, back in 1971, something he calls a disturbing statistic.
“That was two years after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon,” Roach said.
He says he wants Missouri to join the digital age, where information is readily available to the average voter without any need for red tape or Sunshine requests. He wants the state government to be open and transparent, posting their documents online where it can be easily accessed by all.
If elected, he says one of the first things he will do is issue a letter to every government entity saying that they are subject to an audit at any time, but he says the first step is starting with the auditor’s office itself.
“We need a thorough, independent audit of the State Auditor’s Office,” he said. “State law requires that the auditor’s office is audited every two years, and it has not happened in three. And that will tell us a lot about what’s not happening in that office.”
He says that there are a number of things that need to be done to bring the auditor’s office to the standards of 2018. He says that all of the governmental budgets online, as well as their monthly expenses. He also says they need to do more comparisons between the entities to identify best practices.
“We’re talking about undiscovered territory here,” he said. “We don’t even know if all 3,700 entities are using electronic accounting software. We don’t know what kind of file formats they’re working with. We’re starting from scratch.”
His push for modernization has helped push the discussion forward, to where every candidate is now discussing it. But Roach says that the biggest issue is that all of the problems need to be identified before they can even be addressed.
“I’m the only candidate who is not blind to the problems that we have in government,” he said. “And if you don’t know what the problem is, then I don’t know what you’re going to do to solve it once you’re in office.”
Roach also says he’d love to visit as many of those governmental entities meetings as possible, just to watch and remind them all that they will be held accountable.
Fighting as the perceived underdog is nothing new to Roach, however. He has an established track record of “biting off more than he can chew” and come out on top.
He created an online service in judgebook.com, which provides access to information on city, county and state and federal judges, some of which required creating software to access information.
He also came out on top in a three-year legal battle in the federal district court and the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to allow the “Choose Life” license plate to become available in Missouri, winning the cases against then-Attorney Generals Jay Nixon and Chris Koster.
And when Roach wanted budget documents from the University of Central Missouri, which had not been audited for at least 20 years, he decided to walk from Ballwin to Warrensburg, where he met with the university to discuss their decision to password protect the budget. When he left the town, those documents no longer required a password to access.
He may be the most critical opponent of Galloway among the field of GOP hopefuls, critiquing the incumbent regarding the number of audits her office has done.
“There are 115 people who work there, with an $8 million budget, and they audited 86 public entities in 2017. You’ve got 365 days, and you can only do 86 public entities?” Roach asked. “It’s unconscionable. We have over 3,700 separate governmental entities in Missouri. So, to be proud of auditing three percent, that’s sad.”
But before he can take the fight to Galloway, he must first win out among his own party. And that decision will come in seven days.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.