Head of Arizona's Cosmetology Board Used Public Funds for Food, Holiday Decorations, Gifts, and More

The same board investigated a student for giving free haircuts and a cancer survivor for giving beauty treatments to the terminally ill.


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The same state cosmetology board that launched an investigation when a student gave free haircuts to the homeless is now under investigation itself—for wasting taxpayers' money.

Donna Aune, executive director of the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology, used a taxpayer-funded debit card to expense personal items, including food, gifts, and holiday decorations, an audit of the board's spending accounts revealed.

Aune was reimbursed for meals during out-of-state travel to conferences and events, even when meals were provided to attendees, and for meals that were apparently unconnected to official travel. Auditors found that 56 out of 105 purchases on Aune's official travel card occurred while she was not traveling, an apparent violation of the state employee code of conduct, the state accounting manual, and state law. "These included purchases at grocery stores, convenience stores, retail stores, and fueling stations," wrote D. Clark Partridge, Arizona State Comptroller, in the audit report.

Aune also signed off on employee and board member expenses that violated state rules, including reimbursement for meals during local travel. One member of the board was reimbursed for more than double the actual trip mileage on two separate occasions; one employee of the board was reimbursed twice for the same travel claim. Aune reviewed and authorized both expenses.

The audit was completed in August. The board was asked to submit explanations for the various violations, but it failed to meet the September 8 deadline set by the state Department of Administration. The board still hadn't submitted any responses by the time department director Craig Brown wrote a follow-up letter to the cosmetology board last week. This week, the department cut off Aune's state-issued debit card and revoked her authority to sign off on other spending decisions, "in the interest of ensuring the proper and ethical use of public dollars."

The Arizona Board of Cosmetology did not return Reason's requests for comment and still has not responded to the audit.

It's been a rough year for the board, which in January caught flak from the media and from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey after it launched an investigation into Juan Carlos Montesdeoca, the student who gave free haircuts to some homeless people in Tuscon. The board threatened Montesdeoca with fines and a sanction that could have prevented him from getting a haircutting license in the future. The investigation was dropped after Ducey unloaded on the board for its "outrageous" investigation of a student's charity work.

"Our job as public servants is to support Arizonans in their efforts to better their own lives—and certainly in their efforts to improve the lives of others," Ducey, a Republican, wrote. "Any actions by your board on this issue, outside of applauding Mr. Montesdeoca's efforts, are unnecessary and uncalled for."

Previously, the cosmetology board targeted a cancer survivor who was offering haircuts to home-bound senior citizens and the terminally ill.

Why go after people like that? Unlicensed barbers are "a real risk," Aune told a local television station in Tucson while defending the board's decision to target Montesdeoca. Aune also shows up several times in a 2009 investigation by about the "dangers" of receiving a manicure or pedicure from an unlicensed professional. And she pops up in this absurd story about a terrible eyebrow waxing accident—in a fully licensed salon!—trying to pin the blame on unlicensed cosmetologists and calling for more state agents to conduct inspections.

Instead of worrying about whether cosmetologists have a government-issued permission slip, taxpayers should probably be more worried about the risk posed by officials with no regard for state laws and accounting standards governing how public money is used. This is the second time in as many years that auditors have slapped the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology. In 2016, a state audit found that board employees were improperly using government vehicles. After that audit, the state revoked the board's authority to access state-owned vehicles.

Cosmetology boards don't do much to protect the public, but they do make it harder for individuals to become cosmetologists. In Arizona, a cosmetology license requires more than a full year of expensive schooling in a wide range of beauty treatments. Licensing schemes like that create barriers to entry for would-be workers and increase prices for consumers. All that in the name of often specious claims about the dangers of unlicensed hair-cutting.

The seven-member board, like the vast majority of licensing boards, is comprised mostly of individuals working in the same field they are charged with regulating.

All states should consider reforming cosmetology licensing boards to increase economic freedom. Quite a few have done just that in recent years, and Ducey launched a broad review of all Arizona's licensing boards this year. It's hard to imagine another state board outdoing the board of cosmetology in making a compelling case for its own deletion.