A southwest Missouri sheriff contacted several State Lawmakers days after state Auditor Nicole Galloway went public with whistleblower complaints from his county.
The Springfield News-Leader reports Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott was concerned about a bill in the legislature he thinks would allow the auditor’s office to overreach its authority and result in high taxpayer costs.
Members of the Greene County Commission and Arnott have been at odds with Galloway over who should investigate possible misuse of public funds for an election campaign.
The county and Auditor Galloway released statements critical of each other Wednesday after the county announced in its release that it had thrown its support behind an Ethics Commission probe of possible wrongdoing.
Arnott told the News-Leader that his contact with state lawmakers wasn’t a response to Galloway going public with the whistleblower complaints, but was merely part of normal legislative outreach by an officer of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association.
Among other things, the legislation Sheriff Arnott is concerned about would reinstate whistleblower protections for public employees that were stripped out in a far-reaching law passed last year.
Arnott is also suing Galloway for failing to disclose the subject matter of the whistleblower complaints she’s received, even with personal information redacted. His suit argues Galloway is required by state law to reveal the complaints, with or without the names of the people making them.
Galloway has called the effort an attempt to learn the identity of the whistleblowers themselves. “I have a duty to protect whistleblowers under the law,” said Galloway. “If the whistleblower complaints themselves would identify the who the whistleblower is, we have a duty to protect that information.”
Galloway is bound by law to keep whistleblower identities confidential. The Ethics Commission is bound by law to not disclose whether it is, or is not conducting an investigation.
Two of the three Greene County Commissioners, Presiding Commissioner Bob Cirtin and Harold Bengsch, are in agreement that the Ethics Commission is the proper state agency to investigate the possible wrongdoing.
The third commissioner, Lincoln Hough, has been a vocal critic of the action taken so far and believes Galloway should conduct a full audit. A citizen’s petition was launched late last month in support of an examination by Galloway, who has offered to audit the county for free.
Cirtin and Arnott have questioned whether Galloway’s investigation wouldn’t be a drain on taxpayer money.
The possible misuse of public funds by the county to promote a 1/2-cent sales tax hike is the issue being scrutinized. State law prohibits the contribution or expenditure of public funds to support or oppose any ballot measure or candidate for public office.
The 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 to help the County expand its jail (which is run by the sheriff’s department overseen by Arnott).
Galloway says the legislation Sheriff Arnott has raised concerns about is meant to reinstate whistleblower protections specifically for state and local workers that were eliminated in last year’s law.
It would also do away with non-disclosure agreements in lawsuit the state settles through its Legal Expense Fund, which issues payments for lawsuits against Missouri.
There are two matching bills in the House and Senate that are sponsored by Democrats, Representative Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City and Senator Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur. Auditor Galloway is the only Democrat to currently hold a statewide office in Missouri. She’s up for reelection this year.