20 Questions

(PHOTO BY NEAL BRUNS)

Tim Berry

By Bonnie Blackburn
Indiana’s chief accountant, State Auditor Tim Berry, is one a select few: a politician from Northeast Indiana elected to statewide office. And he’s done it not once or twice, but four times, serving two terms as the State Treasurer before being elected State Auditor in 2006. He’s now in his second term as auditor and is mulling what he’ll be doing when that term expires in three years.

The Fort Wayne native now lives in Indianapolis, where he and his wife Kim are raising their two sons, Colin and Ian. His wife is state director of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the busy couple often has their “date night” at one of their boys’ many sporting events.

As treasurer, Berry was heavily involved in developing the state’s CollegeChoice 529 plans, and he’ll make a believer out of anyone who doubts the wisdom of investing in Indiana. Now, as auditor, Berry is overseeing the implementation of the state’s Transparency Portal, which is NOT, in fact, something from “Star Trek” but a website, www.in.gov/itp/, where citizens can review the state’s financial expenditures. He’s also been instrumental in helping the state squirrel away $1.2 billion in reserves, and his name is being bandied about as a choice for lieutenant governor should Republican gubernatorial front-runner Mike Pence want to balance his ticket with a moderate Republican from Upstate.

Berry, 50, spent a number of years in Allen County government before heading south to Indianapolis, serving as eight years as Allen County treasurer. He considered running for former U.S. Rep. Mark Souder’s seat but said he doesn’t want to just be one of 435 in Congress.

Lieutenant governor, governor? What will Tim Berry do next? Find out as much as we could pry from the genial Mr. Berry as we play 20 Questions.

What do you miss most about Fort Wayne?
Only one thing? The food. Casa’s, Coney Island, DeBrand, Mad Anthony’s Brew Pub.

What can you get in Fort Wayne that you can’t get in Indy?
All of that. There are very few locally owned restaurants in Indy. It’s all chains.

Speculation is rife that you’d be up for the lieutenant governor position under Mike Pence. What would you bring to the position?
Experience in state and local government. And an understanding of the state’s fiscal challenges that are ahead.

Have you considered running for governor?
No. Not yet.

What’s next if Pence passes you over?
I’ve got three years left on my term as auditor. I want to bring and maintain fiscal soundness and transparency.

When did you first become interested in politics?
I blew up balloons that said “I’m strong for Bob Armstrong” in the 1975 (mayoral) campaign. I was 14. I actually wrote an essay that I wanted to be city controller for the day. Not mayor, so I guess auditor was destined.

Talk about the Transparency Initiative.
We wanted to provide more openness. It’s really the taxpayers’ money and it’s their right to know how it is being spent. It’s the reason we ran for the office; we needed more openness and a better understanding of the state’s finances.

It’s unusual in these days for someone from Fort Wayne to be elected to a statewide office. How were you able to overcome the “anti-Upstate” bias?
Being the nice guy. And I think it’s difficult for people from all corners of the state. You have to work harder to get to all corners of the state. I have Ralph Gates’ portrait outside my office. He’s the only governor (1945-1949) elected from Northeast Indiana. He was from Whitley County.

Mark Souder, Philip Hinkle and others have been embroiled in sex scandals. What’s going on?
People have lost their ways. Power’s gotten to their heads.

We have it on good authority that you were a nice guy as far back as elementary school. To what do you attribute your “nice guy” image?
Great parents. Mona Lou and Duckworth.

Did you major in math in school?
No, actually I majored in marketing.

If you could wave a magic wand and rid the world of a societal ill, what would it be and why?
Cancer — it’s taken both of my parents much too early.

If you had a super-power, what would it be?
An ability to be two places at once.

Talk about the CollegeChoice plan. How did you get involved and why did you get behind  this initiative?
At the time (I got involved), everyone told me the cost of college was out of control and that student loans and debts were rising at dramatic rates. Now as a parent three years away (from paying for college for son Ian), I realize the importance of planning early for the cost of higher education.

If you hadn’t gone into politics, what would you have like to have done as a career?
Teach. I’ve taught part-time at the college level, and I spend a lot of time in classrooms talking about financial literacy.

What are you going to do   after politics?
We’ll see.

How important is technology in your office and in your personal life?
Very important in the office. We’ve been able to reduce costs because of technology. Personally it’s more and more important so I can stay up to date with my kids.

How do you “unplug”?
Cooking. It used to be doing yard work. Now I’ve given that up to the kids. My signature dish? Thanksgiving dinner. I like everything about it.

Why do you think you’ve been able to stay above the political mudslinging?
I stay within my lane. I’ve never tried to get outside of the focus of what my responsibilities were. When I see politicians get in trouble, it’s oftentimes when they get involved with things they shouldn’t be.

What candy do you give out at Halloween?
Chocolate. It’s gotta be.

Posted: Thu, 09/22/2011 - 4:02 pm
Last updated: Wed, 05/23/2012 - 3:14 pm