Bill passed in 2013 strengthens auditor’s role in verifying credible reports of improper activity by public officials
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — State Auditor Nicole Galloway says a law passed in 2013 empowering the auditor to investigate credible claims of improper activity by state and local government officials and agencies has been a valuable tool to help protect taxpayers in the five years since it took effect. Galloway says those investigations have enabled her office to identify waste, fraud and abuse and make recommendations that have made government more responsive and effective.
A specialized unit of auditors, attorneys and investigators reviews claims as they are received by the Whistleblower Hotline, which has experienced an increased volume of contacts in recent years. In some cases, contacts result in audits, which have led to the filing of criminal charges and the convictions of public officials.
“When reports come to my office alleging misuse of public resources, Missourians can be confident not only that the information is closely reviewed, but that we take action when the allegations are credible,” Auditor Galloway said. “The change in the law in 2013 strengthened our ability to protect taxpayers and expose wrongdoing. We use that law to aggressively investigate whistleblower complaints, whether they concern the smallest city hall in Missouri or the state Capitol.”
Audits of two small Missouri cities, Coffey and Viburnum have recently demonstrated how information brought to the Auditor’s office has helped expose serious fiscal problems.
The audit of Coffey, released in July, determined that the town of 166 in Daviess County was missing more than $60,000. A pattern of missing deposits and improper payments by the former city clerk was compounded by a lack of oversight by the mayor and board of aldermen.
Local law enforcement provided information to the Auditor that led to an initial investigation; the board of aldermen then adopted an ordinance requesting a formal audit by Auditor Galloway’s office. Now that the audit is complete, the Auditor has provided the audit report and documents to law enforcement and is working with city and other local officials in pursuing legal action and restitution.
In Viburnum, the former city clerk pleaded guilty last month to a felony charge of receiving stolen property. This followed the release of an audit in 2017 describing more than $100,000 in fraudulent activity in the small Iron County community. As in Coffey, the audit found a lack of oversight by the mayor and board of aldermen contributed to the fraud.
Auditor Galloway said her office currently is working on additional audits in conjunction with local, state or federal law enforcement agencies. Those include looking at the cities of Glasgow and Greenville, as well as the Callaway County Collector’s Office.
Even audits that don’t uncover waste, fraud and abuse result in recommendations to help local governments be more efficient and effective, Auditor Galloway said. When audits enable citizens to see that government officials are dedicated to protecting public resources, it instills greater confidence and trust, she added.
Investigations that don’t lead to audits also have brought about changes beneficial to taxpayers after Auditor’s office staff have reached out to public officials to make them aware of problems that can be resolved quickly, the Auditor said. Results of these types of investigations include identifying and addressing misuse of public resources and rectifying violations of state law related to public works projects.
“Without the valuable information brought to my office by whistleblowers, our job in protecting Missourians would be much more difficult,” Auditor Galloway said. “I continue to urge citizens to contact my office if they have information about waste, fraud and abuse. Individuals can be assured that I am committed to my legal duty to keep their identity confidential.”
This past legislative session, Auditor Galloway was successful in urging state legislators to restore protections to government whistleblowers against retaliation. Those protections were removed when then-Gov. Greitens signed SB 43 into law in 2017, over the objections of the Auditor. The passage of Senate Bill 1007 in 2018 puts the protections back in place.
For the past two years, Auditor Galloway supported legislation to create greater penalties in public corruption cases and allow increased partnerships between the State Auditor and prosecutors and law enforcement. In 2017, the provision to allow for increased partnerships to fight public corruption was approved by both chambers as part of a larger bill, but was vetoed by the Governor. In 2018, a version of the measure was approved in both the House and Senate, but ultimately was blocked after lobbying efforts by some county officials.
Auditor Galloway said if Missourians have information regarding government waste, fraud and abuse, they may provide it for consideration to the State Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline at 800-347-8597 or by email email@example.com. Under the law, whistleblowers have the option to remain anonymous.