Investigation forces tighter payroll security, revamped operations


Joe Jordan | Nebraska Watchdog

Call it Dundy County 2.0.

Following the recent resignation of a top county manager, a blistering state audit and exclusive reports by Nebraska Watchdog, one leg of the bureaucracy is getting a makeover.

BUSTED ON FACEBOOK? Foley’s investigation uncovered this potentially incriminating photo

“We probably screwed up,” County Commissioner Jerry Fries tells Nebraska Watchdog.

That screw-up involved former Highway Superintendent Mike Edwards, who was accused of piling up “large amounts of overtime,” thousands of dollars that could not be verified, according to State Auditor Mike Foley.

Fries says it was a mistake putting Edwards in charge of all the roadwork and paperwork.

“It was just too much for one man.”

With Edwards gone the sparsely populated county of 2,000 in the state’s far southwest corner is reshuffling its road’s operation, splitting Edwards’ work load.

“That should pretty much eliminate most overtime,” says Fries noting initial plans call for a state certified road engineer, a road crew manager and several folks “in charge of certain roads.”

“When all is said and done it should be a savings,” adds Commissioner Scott Hogeland.

Another key change: a fingerprint-scanning time clock designed to tighten payroll security.

Dundy County Courthouse in Benkelman, NE.

“We had some concerns with people’s ability to manipulate time clocks…people clocking in an out for other people,” says Fries.

Edwards didn’t punch a clock, making it all but impossible to verify his overtime. In 2012 and 2013 Edwards received $71,000 straight pay and another $50,000 in OT.

The state audit found Edwards all but claiming to be the hardest working government employee in the state:

  • Working holiday after holiday—Thanksgiving and Christmas included.
  • Working every day, except for one Sunday in March, for 7 straight months in 2013— that’s 208 of 209 days without a break.

Foley’s investigation also included evidence—seemingly self-inflicted—that Edwards played fast and loose with his sick-time and vacation hours.

From June, 2011 through March, 2014 Edwards never recorded using any sick or vacation days.

In his report Foley notes a May 7, 2013 Facebook picture, posted by “the Superintendent’s spouse.” It’s apparently the couple walking hand-in-hand during a trip to Lake Dillon, Colorado.

As Nebraska Watchdog first reported Edwards is expected to partially reimburse taxpayers but a big payday is not on the table.

“It’s not a lot of money” says Fries who is still waiting for a specific figure. He adds there is no indication Edwards faces any criminal charges.

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Joe can be heard on Omaha’s KFAB radio every Monday at 7:40 a.m. and KHAS-AM in Hastings every Wednesday at 7:30 a.m. and 12:45 p.m.

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