State Auditor Nicole Galloway has criticized a move by southwest Missouri’s Greene County Commission to hire a private law firm to look into alleged misuse of public funds.
Last week, Galloway announced her office received a tip on its Whistle-blower Hotline, claiming that some county employees were asked to perform duties on behalf of a political action committee that supported a tax measure.
State law prohibits the contribution or expenditure of public funds to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office.
On Wednesday, she requested authority to investigate allegations that public resources were misused to advocate in favor of a county-wide 1/2-cent general revenue sales tax increase.
Late Friday, the county commission announced it had hired a Kansas City law firm to conduct a review of the allegations. In a release Saturday, Galloway said the action does not indicate interest in pursuing a public, independent investigation of the assertions.
She said a private law firm would not be required to make information public and would only be obligated to represent its client – the commission.
Galloway stated that recent changes in state law left her office as the only entity with the legal requirement to protect whistle-blowers. She said the Greene County Commission should stand by its original pledge and fully cooperate to allow transparency.
The Springfield New-Leader reported one of the three commissioners, Lincoln Hough, released a statement saying he would “not support using taxpayers’ dollars to hire a private firm.”
The paper reported Hough as saying, “I am concerned facts critical to any investigation would not be forthcoming from whistle-blowers to a firm paid by the county officials versus an independent State Auditor who has a duty to protect them.”
According to Galloway’s office, the whistle-blower claimed county employees may have done work for the “Invest in Greene County Political Action Committee”. The tasks could have included accepting donations to the PAC in county offices during work hours.
The 1/2-cent sales tax passed by a 59.74% margin. The Green County website said it would raise an estimated $26 million per year. The money would be used help the County expand its jail, implement services to reduce jail population growth, reinstate Animal Control, meet environmental funding needs and provide financial assistance to municipalities.
Last week, Galloway, a Democrat, threw her support behind a bill that’s been pre-filed for the upcoming legislative session that would roll back a provision in a new discrimination law.
The measure would reinstate “whistleblower” protections for government workers that were removed in the law. The statute, as passed, removed the shield for both public and private sector workers.