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Report offenses with 11 digits
The county now has a hotline for people to lodge complaints about misdeeds.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published August 21, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Have you seen waste, fraud or abuse in county government operations? Hernando County wants to hear from you.
The county has started an Ethics Hotline and is encouraging citizens to use the toll-free phone and fax numbers to report concerns and suspicions anonymously.
The hotline number is 1-866-842-1345.
The calls are received by an independent hotline facilitator and forwarded on to a response team composed of County Administrator Gary Kuhl, Sheriff Richard Nugent and Peggy Prentice, audit services manager for the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
If any of those three are named in the complaint, they are not given a notice of the complaint.
County officials want to hear about any instances of:
- Theft or misappropriation of county resources.
- Falsification of official documents or reports.
- Corruption or official misconduct including misuse of county information or offering or accepting bribes.
- Misuse, abuse, or personal use of county property.
- Conducting personal business on county time.
- Improper use or spending of county tax dollars.
- Violations of procurement policies or contract fraud.
- Tampering with government records.
- Illegal acts such as theft, fraud, kickbacks, conflict of interest or price fixing by county employees and contractors.
- Gross misconduct, incompetence or inefficiency by county employees.
Prentice said that there have already been three complaints lodged through the hotline since notices about it were first posted internally in May as well as one other similar complaint called into the county and one mailed. Three of those were referred to other agencies. Two were investigated and closed.
The hotline's cost to the county is $3,500 per year.
The idea is considered by other agencies as a "best practice" and a recent report by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners showed that 65 percent of calls coming into such hotlines warrant investigation.
"According to the 2006 ACFE Report to the Nation, fraud is most likely to be detected through a tip than by any other means, and organizations with fraud hotlines reported losses half the size as organizations lacking a similar reporting mechanism," according to the June 2007 Fraud Examiner Newsletter.
"Having a hotline itself is a fraud deterrent," Prentice said. "That's a bigger thing than even the calls, the deterrent factor."
County Commission Chairman Jeff Stabins said he had "mixed feelings" about the hotline. "Unfortunately, it's probably a necessary thing in this day and age ... but it's a sad commentary on life in government, or in the workplace in general," he said.
He also worried about "unintended consequences" such as allowing employees to use the anonymous reporting system to bring up their issues with fellow workers.
"Why can't people just get along and do their jobs?" he said. "I guess it's a necessary thing today and, for that, I'm sorry."