Greene Co. Sheriff Jim Arnott opens up about lawsuit against state auditor

Published: Jan. 4, 2018 at 6:21 PM CST
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Greene County officials have made some controversial moves since state auditor Nichole Galloway announced that 12 whistleblowers had contacted her office alleging that the county had illegally used finances and manpower to promote the passage of the recent half-cent sales tax.

The county commission hired a law firm using taxpayer money to look into the allegations that Galloway had offered to look into with a free audit.

Then this week Greene Co. Sheriff Jim Arnott announced he was filing a lawsuit against Galloway. The suit basically challenges the state under the Sunshine Law., claiming that the auditor is not allowing information to be released to the public that should be under state law.

Arnott spent about 45 minutes answering questions about the lawsuit at the press conference. Sitting beside his attorney, Pat Keck, Arnott reiterated that while he wants the names of the 12 whistleblowers redacted and has no interest in knowing their identities, he does want State Auditor Nicole Galloway to be more forthcoming with information about what the allegations are.

"The only information we get is statements we see in the news," he said. "If I have employees who are doing something improper I need to address that."

When asked why he couldn't simply wait on the state auditor's investigation to get that information , Arnott claimed that Galloway shouldn't be doing the investigation despite the fact that most of the whistleblowers say it was "fiscal" wrongdoing - as in financial.

"If the auditor has this credible information, by statute she's supposed to turn it over to the three state agencies, The attorney general, the state ethics committee, and if it's election-related it goes to the secretary of state."

Galloway says that is what would happen - if she were allowed to first do the audit.

And just as the law firm hired by the county commission is being paid with taxpayer money, this lawsuit is also being "done out of public funds", according to Keck, although the suit is asking for the state to pay attorney fees.

When asked about taxpayer outrage over public funds they feel is being used to try and avoid a state audit that's being offered for free?

"It's not free, it's costing taxpayer money," Arnott replied. "If I was in Lawrence County or Stone County, now I'm paying my tax money to go to the state auditor to come into Greene County."

Arnott vehemently denied assertions by Galloway and former Greene Co. Commissioner Dave Coonrod that "there would be an effort to drill down and find out who the whistleblowers are." if he's given any of the information.

"Sure I understand that," he said of people thinking that even without names, one could figure out who the whistleblowers are by what they said.. "But I've not ever seen a state officeholder get out into the news and make vague allegations and not back any of it up and not hand it off to the proper investigating authority."

Arnott says he believes that his department has done nothing wrong and that the lawsuit isn't a smokescreen to try and avoid scrutiny.

"I'm not concerned about an audit," he said.

"It appears to some people like we're either trying to hide something or keep something from coming out," Keck added. "I think we're doing just the opposite. I think the sheriff is trying to make everything public."