Amid Jacksonville Inspector General Controversy, Consider Reform

COMMENT | Jacksonville City Hall attorneys revealed to an oversight committee last week that current Inspector General Lisa Green now faces two more whistleblower complaints about her handling of the office to investigate municipal waste, fraud and abuse, bringing the total number of complaints against her to four.

Only the identity of a single complainant, Andrew MacFarlane, the bureau’s director of investigations, has been disclosed because he waived his right to confidentiality, and because The Times-Union obtained a copy of his complaint. against Green, for whom he served as second-in-command.

The remaining three complaints and the identities of the accusers remain confidential as lawyers at the city’s attorney general’s office investigate the allegations to determine whether they are founded. The content of one of these still-secret complaints has been repeatedly described to me by those with knowledge of it as particularly serious and disturbing beyond what appears in MacFarlane’s complaint, although I have not further confirmed the specific details it contains.

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MacFarlane’s complaint touches on a number of issues, including accusations that Green oversaw a dysfunctional office and that she was romantically involved with a subordinate – an issue the office has previously looked into with heads of other departments. and city agencies.

An oversight committee of inspectors general last week hired Sheryl Goodman, a former inspector general of many agencies who helped set up the Jacksonville office in 2014, to serve as an interim chief while Green is under attack. ‘investigation.

City prosecutors will submit their findings to the watch committee, possibly in December, and that committee will have to determine whether the charges warrant Green’s firing at a public hearing. Green, who has hired a lawyer, and his accusers will have the opportunity to present their case before the committee and the public.

The Office of Inspector General has struggled to maintain a permanent leader since its inception.

While this is probably not one of the most serious issues the committee will be looking at, one of MacFarlane’s complaints rings undeniably true: Green, he alleged, inexplicably dwells on otherwise completed investigations. for months, delaying the release of public reports that shed light on the city’s accusations of wrongdoing. officials and employees and expose the city and taxpayers to the potential costs of these unresolved controversies.

Indeed, the time the office spent on complaints during Green’s tenure can be staggering and confusing, and it’s a complaint I’ve heard from others, including elected officials.

Fight against corruption, embezzlement, mismanagement

I would add a further question that the committee, Goodman, and his potential successor should consider as they help the office come out of its current tumultuous times: The office was created to put too much emphasis on “increasing the number of employees.” government efficiency and effectiveness ”and not enough on the fight against corruption, embezzlement and mismanagement. Some of the most important performance indicators that the office examines, according to its five-year strategic plan, are the number of reports produced in a given year, the “quantifiable cost savings” that the work of the office has generated, the number of its recommendations. managers have adopted, and the number of “contacts” he has had.

A few of these metrics may seem reasonable in the abstract, but in practice – and combined with the tendency under Green for these reports to take geologic eras to complete – they can cause the office to focus on insanely weak cases. and absurd. that damage the reputation of the office and accomplish next to nothing of value in the end.

For example: In January, the office released a 47-page report finding that a middle executive at JEA broke some obscure public service rules when, at the request of former CEO Aaron Zahn, he ordered a subordinate to donate 20 wooden pallets and 4 wooden spools to a Neptune. Beach Church. The report, incredibly, only found wrongdoing on the part of the middle manager, not the CEO who requested it or the high-level manager who assured him that “everything is ready”. This completely ignored the manager’s point of view, he felt he was in a position where he “couldn’t say no” to both the CEO and his own direct supervisor, while simultaneously putting enormous value into it. the claims of the CEO (yes, that CEO) and the high-level executive, they would have stopped the small donation if their employee had been more “transparent” about how the wood was going to be delivered.

The initial charges were reported in November 2019; the report came out in January 2021. In the meantime, the middle manager had been “released from his job” and was therefore no longer even working at JEA when the report came out.

And all this for a sum generously estimated at $ 112 in a few dozen pieces of wood.

This report undermined the office’s reputation in the eyes of JEA employees, many of whom reasonably viewed the report as absurdly long, absurdly flawed, absurdly flawed. What base employee would file a complaint with the Inspector General after reading a report that took so much trouble to minimize blame on senior management, and direct it almost entirely to a lower level worker who was just following orders ?

This demonstrated a lack of judgment: Judgment in the selection of cases, in the attribution of blame. This is below the work of someone paid close to $ 200,000 a year.

Report to Sports and Entertainment Office still pending

It is not a one-off problem either. A former employee told me that she spent much of her time in the office as an “investigation analyst” responding to complaints about garbage collection. There is also, to the bewilderment of those who know him, an unpublished pending report on a long-standing investigation into the city’s Sports and Entertainment Bureau, which dates back to at least December 2020.

Someone needs to devote their intelligence in the near future to make sure the Inspector General’s office is doing what it should: prevent real waste, fraud and abuse – don’t spend 14 months harassing a poor jerk who forgot to record his trip to the bank on a time card. Was this really the vision the city officials had when they created the office?

In other words, the cases with the most easily measurable cost savings will not always be the most significant, but current performance measures do not sufficiently take this into account; instead, they almost encourage the series of bizarre choices demonstrated by the JEA report.

Of course, it would be cases like this – picayune, ‘efficiency’ oriented garbage – that a corrupt public official prefer the inspector general of the city to turn his wheels. It’s tempting to imagine that this is largely why the “number of posters, brochures and electronic media distributed” is a real performance measure for the office.

It must also be said: there are good people who do a good important job in this office. Dedicated investigators don’t want to spend their time chasing spools of wood, but dedicated investigators also need dedicated bosses to support them.

Whatever the outcome of the ongoing investigations, and whoever takes charge in the end, changes will be necessary. The office’s troubles did not begin when these whistleblower complaints were filed a few weeks ago.

Nate Monroe’s City column appears every Thursday and Sunday. Follow him on twitter @NateMonroeTU.

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