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Aschenbrenner: I'm a Hawkeye through-and-through

BY ROBERT CROZIER | JULY 05, 2013 5:00 AM

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In the few years he lived in Chicago, the accounting firm that Dana Aschenbrenner worked at dissolved underneath him, and he was part of a mass hiring in which another firm absorbed many of the employees who were displaced by the Enron scandal.

His firm, Arthur Anderson, was Enron’s main auditor. Aschenbrenner said he was just a tax guy and wasn’t associated with the scandal. A few years later, he and his family moved back to Iowa.

They missed the state, he said.

In 2003, he started his civil-service career in Johnson County.

Now, 10 years later, Aschenbrenner will lead the Johnson County Finance Department, which the county Board of Supervisors established June 6.

Aschenbrenner has not always been an accountant.

Aschenbrenner graduated from the University of Iowa in 1986 with an undergraduate degree in biology and psychology. In 2000, he received a master’s in accountancy at the UI.

His first real job came at the UI Hospitals and Clinics as a laboratory technologist. After 12 years in that position, he said, it was time for a change.

“I wanted some career where I could basically go anywhere … in vitro fertilization was such a specialized thing,” he said.

He was working as a lab tech in 1988 when he married his wife, now Julie Aschenbrenner, whom he met just after graduating from Osage High School in 1981. They both worked as counselors at Camp Sunnyside in Des Moines, which serves people with mental disabilities.

Today, the two have three sons.

Johnson County Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig, who played in the World Series of Poker six years ago, said she met him at a regular $10 buy-in at the Iowa City American Legion, 3016 Muscatine Ave., before she was elected.

“… I remember him winning some hands against me,” she said.

Aschenbrenner said he didn’t anticipate all the work that has gone into creating a government subdivision.

The supervisors eliminated one position each in the Auditor’s Office, Treasurer’s Office, and supervisors’ office, while creating a three-person Finance Department.

“We thought by centralizing it and consolidating it, we would get better cooperation and some efficiency,” said Supervisor Rod Sullivan, noting Aschenbrenner’s thorough style.

Of the employees in the three eliminated positions, Aschenbrenner, formerly a deputy treasurer, was the only one retained.

He assumed his new role June 10.

A bump in his salary, from around $63,000 to approximately $78,000, comes with the new position, Tom Kriz, Johnson County Treasurer, said, noting that Aschenbrenner is a well-rounded financial person.

Former UI employee John Hannaford was the first new hiring, he said. The other position remains unfilled.

The deputy auditor left her job, and the supervisor’s budget coordinator, Richard Claiborne, was not selected to be a part of the new team, Kriz said.

The Finance Department will be housed in the Treasurer’s Office for the first couple of years, Kriz said, but Aschenbrenner will report to the supervisors.

Rettig and Supervisor Pat Harney will act as liaisons between the supervisors and the Finance Department.

Rettig said the change probably should have happened six or seven years ago, but it was not possible without all three elected offices.

“There was never a true partnership with the auditor to do that,” she said.

The new department will provide further efficiencies for Johnson County by centralizing purchasing, fleet management, and risk management, said Auditor Travis Weipert, who defeated former auditor Tom Slockett in the 2012 Democratic primary. Weipert believes Aschenbrenner has the ability to do the job in part because of his corporate background.

But the new office does represent a power shift that has taken place over the decades between the Auditor’s Office and the supervisors.

The budget was once entirely the purview of the auditor, Aschenbrenner said.

To date, he has held a county position longer than Rettig, Weipert, Sullivan, and Kriz.

Aschenbrenner said he hopes to keep politics away from his new department.

“I see this office as a non-political office,” he said. “We’re driven by fact.”


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