Whistleblower Report: What's in it?
Story by Dan Hust
MONTICELLO December 17, 2013 Accusing officials of a “confidential culture” that foments corruption rather than reduces it, Legislator Cindy Gieger on Thursday refused to spend more money on an attorney hired to investigate whistleblower complaints in the Division of Health and Family Services.
In 2011, the prior Legislature brought on Roemer, Wallens, Gold and Mineaux for that task, at a cost not to exceed $5,000.
By this past July, attorney Jim Roemer (who also represents the county in labor matters) advised that the $5,000 limit would likely be exceeded, and in September, he provided a bill for $13,533.52.
Around the same time, Roemer also submitted a report on his efforts, allegedly comprising half a dozen investigations.
However, according to county law, the report is confidential even to legislators. Only a few top county officials have been made privy to it, since it identifies those who complained and those who were accused.
County Attorney Sam Yasgur said he gave it to former Personnel Officer Carolyn Hill, from whom Legislature Chairman Scott Samuelson expected a redacted report, but she has since retired.
“I think once a determination gets made, we should get a report,” Samuelson said, adding that all he heard since the investigation’s conclusion in September “was that it [a report] was coming.”
Now, Hill’s interim successor, Human Resources Director Lynda Levine, will review it, Samuelson added.
In the meantime, Gieger told her colleagues at Thursday’s Management and Budget Committee meeting that she could not vote to pay anything more for “a report I know nothing about.”
“I would like to state for the record my concern with inconsistencies with the way in which internal complaints are handled the fact that information on these complaints is known to only a few based on what I believe is an ‘everything is confidential’ culture,” she remarked, “which has led to several very real situations where we legislators were asked to make decisions, only to discover those decisions led to outcomes we were unaware of.”
Gieger specifically cited a recent case where county Dept. of Family Services (DFS) employees were arrested on fraud charges which she said were based on complaints that for more than a year had been ignored as “unfounded not once internally by a small ‘confidential’ group, but twice.”
“So now we have another confidential report ... a report that I feel has been used to block review of very real concerns in programs that protect children,” she continued, calling the situation “another instance of stalling any real reform to protect our vulnerable.”
Thursday’s resolution noted that, at Yasgur’s request, Roemer voluntarily reduced that $13,533 bill to $9,881, of which the county has already paid close to half.
But even with Yasgur’s endorsement, the remaining $5,000 proved enough of a sticking point to have legislators table it until next week.
“We don’t know what’s in the report, but all of a sudden, we have to pony up,” Gieger said after the meeting. “... Well, I’m not paying it!”
“It sends a bad message if we exceed a not-to-exceed limit,” added Legislator Cora Edwards.
What the full Legislature will decide this Thursday remains uncertain, but in the new year, they may take another look at the county’s whistleblower policy, which more than just Gieger feel is not doing enough to reform the system.
Samuelson acknowledged the current policy should be “given some meat defined. There’s a lot of gray area in it.”
“I’m not hiding behind these policies anymore,” vowed Gieger. “... It’s not working for kids and families.”