Rodish Won't Run Again

The mayor's decision comes after an audit criticizes his city expense reports.

By Andrew D. Blechman
Register Staff Writer

West Des Moines, Ia. - Dino Rodish, a political novice who ran City Hall with a combative agility he learned on the racetrack, announced Saturday he would not run for another term as mayor of West Des Moines.

"I want to spend more time with my family and my business," said Rodish, of his voluntary exodus from politics following an extensive investigation by The Des Moines Register. "I don't have many months left in office, but I'm going to try to make the best of it."

"He was never in it for the long haul," said Councilman Robert Keenan, although earlier this summer many supporters thought Rodish would run for re-election.

The mayor's decision came as an independent audit roundly criticized Rodish's municipal expense reports. Rodish said the audit did not influence his decision.

The audit, performed by the West Des Moines-based accounting firm of Brooks Lodden, highlights hundreds of errors in the mayor's reports and recommends the city develop a much stronger reimbursement policy.

Among "the magnitude of instances of noncompliance" listed by the audit:

None of Rodish's $3,700 worth of local mileage was properly documented. At times the mayor failed to even document his mileage with a date. He also waited up to nine months before submitting for reimbursement.

Nearly $2,000 worth of the mayor's local meals - there were 96 - were not properly documented. Several meals charged by Keenan also lacked documentation.

The majority of Keenan's taxi receipts lacked an explanation of destination or purpose. Rodish's taxi receipts also lacked such documentation.

Keenan improperly billed taxpayers for several personal items, including Carmex lip balm, magazines and film processing.

The audit also questioned some reimbursements to Councilman Brad Olson and former Councilman Ted Ohmart. Both men have accepted blame for the oversights. Keenan declined to comment on the audit.

Rodish, who turns 43 on Monday, won a special election for mayor in April 1993 on a wave of anti-tax and anti-development sentiment and was later re-elected to a full term.

A self-styled populist reformer who had previously been known by his stock-car racing nickname "Dizzy Dino," Rodish said he entered the political fray out of frustration. To his way of thinking, West Des Moines' City Hall was inhabited by arrogant career politicians and staffers who routinely raised taxes, ruthlessly assessed residents for street improvements and cut deals with developers.

Accepted Print

Last week, however, Rodish himself was in the spotlight for accepting a $200 framed print from a developer who has received millions of dollars' worth of contracts for city business.

Once in office, Rodish quickly alienated city staff members by requesting their personnel files - culminating in the firing of City Manager Arthur Pizzano in April.

But while his relationships with staff members were rocky, Rodish proved his leadership skills during the Flood of '93, which devastated the Valley Junction area, and his popularity rose accordingly.

His popularity continued to grow with certain segments of the population as he campaigned for a new civic library and the restoration of Valley Junction, his political base.

"He did a whole lot for Valley Junction," said longtime resident Barbara Long. "He's been accused of favoring this part of town, but why wouldn't he? He lives here."

Long said she respected Rodish for his lack of political saavy.

"He was never a politician," she said. "He was always just a plain old Joe. While everyone else played footsie, he got things done."

Supporters also say he opened up government in Iowa's fastest-growing city.

"I think he proved an important transition from the good-old-boys system to an open system of government," longtime political ally Rich Eychaner said.

Judgment Questioned

But aside from his achievements, Rodish's tenure was marked by what some have called a pattern of bad judgment: In addition to his improper documentation of miles and meals and his acceptance of the print, he billed taxpayers for about $500 in private phone calls, and he took a $1,200 city trip to Mexico.

Rodish's planned exit leaves just school board member Gene Meyer in the fall mayoral race.

Regarding the audit, Rodish said he would "gladly reimburse the city" for any personal items improperly billed to taxpayers.

"I guess I just tried to cut a few corners and save a little time . . . and now I'm getting roasted for it," Rodish said. "I'll be the first one to admit that I've made some mistakes."

The audit came after a Des Moines Register investigation revealed that Rodish had billed taxpayers for $3,700 in sparsely documented mileage and $2,000 in local meals. City records also revealed that Keenan charged taxpayers for $10,000 worth of out-of-state travel, including 53 cab rides and lip balm. Keenan charged taxpayers for $435 in local meals as well.

Effort To Document

Rodish said that he will go back through his records and try to document the meals and mileage - if a majority of City Council members ask him to do so.

Regarding Rodish's mileage, the audit states that, "there is no specific destination noted nor any indication about the purpose for the meeting or travel."

Olson said that he hoped "the leader of the city would explain his expenses because it was the right thing to do, not because a majority of the council asked him to."

The audit recommends that the council provide proper documentation or reimburse the city.

Rodish said he isn't sure what all the commotion is about.

"I'm familiar with the pulse of the people, and they're saying, `What is the big deal about all this stuff?' " he said.

The audit highlights 65 instances - totaling about $880 - where Keenan erred in his expense reports, and hundreds of instances where the mayor erred - totaling nearly $6,300.

Rodish acknowledged that in the future his requests for mileage reimbursements will include a "specific date, purpose and destination."

Oversight Committee

To prevent questionable expense reports from being reimbursed in the future, Brooks Lodden advised the city to form an oversight committee - consisting of city staff and council members - to better monitor council expenses.

"We recommend the council consider establishing a subcommittee to review and approve expense reimbursement claims . . . by the city's elected officials," the audit reads.

Brooks Lodden strongly recommended the city review its expense reimbursement policy in order to better define what documentation is required.

"It is important that a `public purpose' . . . be considered when determining if costs incurred are to be paid for with city funds," the audit reads.

As for Rodish's erratic submission for reimbursements, the audit suggests "reimbursement claims be filed on a monthly basis."

Several council members said they expected the audit's recommendations to be adopted. The recommendations will be discussed at Monday night's council