Sarpy County Hired Third-Party Whistleblower Contractor in Effort To Increase Openness & Confidence

Sarpy County seeks to step up trust | Image Credit:
Sarpy County seeks to step up trust | Image Credit:

It could be a first for a local Nebraska government, according to officials.

The rapidly expanding Sarpy County in Nebraska has gone above and above by offering its staff and residents an anonymous third-party channel via which they may report instances of harassment, waste, and possible mismanagement.

As of late May, the county provides the Integrity Counts resource, which is run independently by WhistleBlower Security Inc., a Canadian business.

A $13,700 yearly contract requires the contractor to take information in confidence, 24/7. The secret report will be given to a committee of county officials, who will review it and decide what to do next.

Sarpy County Board Chair Angi Burmeister stated, “This platform will assist Sarpy County maintain the highest ethical standards in serving the public— and supports a speak-up culture.”

The executive directors of the League of Nebraska Municipalities and the Nebraska Association of County Officials, Jon Cannon and Lynn Rex, respectively, stated that they were not aware of any other municipal government in the state that receives complaints from whistleblowers through an outside agency.

Cannon thinks it’s worth looking into as a potential recommendation for other counties.

Accountability and transparency

The action was taken, according to Sarpy County officials, to “increase openness and accountability.”

According to the county, there are still ways to report suspected personnel concerns, financial mismanagement, fraud, waste, or abuse. These include bringing up issues with the Human Resources division, a county manager, or an elected figure directly.

The county stated in a statement, “This project acknowledges the necessity of offering an extra channel for reporting these sorts of concerns.”

“In the end, issues that are never addressed never get resolved.”

Sarpy County Board member David Klug

The third-biggest county in the state, Sarpy County, has recently had to handle a number of high-profile staff disputes.

Three years after Brian Zuger was elected to the position of county treasurer, the Sarpy County Board dismissed him in 2021. The action was taken in response to a report issued by the Nebraska Auditor of Public Accounts, which exposed many bookkeeping irregularities, including incorrect tax payments to school districts, in his management of the county’s finances.

In response to claims of sexual misconduct by public Public Defender Tom Strigenz with a subordinate employee on public property, the County Board also voted a resolution in opposition to Strigenz’s actions in the same year.

Three anonymous complaints on the scenario were received by the board, according to the Omaha World-Herald. However, Strigenz denied all of the accusations, including the one that he had pressured witnesses.

Sarpy County Commissioner David Klug announced on Thursday that the county’s audit committee had proposed the new outside whistleblower contract, citing it as a nationally recognized best practice.

According to Klug, the action was taken “to make sure the county is looking at things that need to be looked at,” as well as to foster trust and uphold the highest standards of governance.

In the end, Klug stated, “issues cannot be resolved if they are never addressed.”

Without consulting the public, the County Board authorized the service deal earlier this year.

The service was launched on May 23.

Reports can be made online through a five-step process, over the phone, or by email. It is not necessary for report submitters to give their name or any other personal information. According to Klug, the chief financial officer, chief deputy county attorney, and the county human resources director make up the group that would later review the anonymous allegation.

In other parts of the state

According to a mayoral spokesman, the City of Omaha does not have an outside whistleblower program; however, it does have the Mayor’s Hotline for residents to voice concerns and an internet hotline for city workers to report suspected fraud.

There is also no outside contractor handling whistleblower allegations in the City of Lincoln. A spokeswoman for the city stated that complaints will be handled by an internal agency or commission.

According to Ombudsman Julie Rogers, the State Ombudsman’s Office is designated as the state government’s investigative body for claims of wrongdoing under the Nebraska State Government Effectiveness Act, also referred to as the state Whistleblower Act.

She stated that the only exception to this office’s jurisdiction being county jails is neither city nor county governments.

According to State Auditor Mike Foley, his office provides an anonymous email address and hotline for reporting any suspicions of fraud or waste.

He stated that while concerns are generally expressed anonymously, occasionally the people expressing them orally or via email identify themselves.

According to Foley, “We take them all seriously and put them through our own processes to evaluate credibility.” “We have found these ‘advice’ to be incredibly useful in our work throughout the years.”


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