Like many Missourians, I’m deeply concerned about the headlines we’ve read about state and local government in the past year. Workplace harassment and discrimination have led to millions of taxpayer dollars being spent on lawsuits. Misuse, and even theft, of public resources. Allegations of abuse and neglect of vulnerable citizens. And concerted efforts by some officials to keep their actions hidden, often with the help of dark money and their lawyers.
In each instance, the public trust has been broken and a price is paid — in your tax dollars, in the well-being of our fellow Missourians, and in citizens’ confidence in their government.
As state auditor, I have stepped in many times to help put an end to abuses of authority. But my role as the state’s independent watchdog would be much more difficult without information provided by whistleblowers who call attention to those situations. When these individuals see a breakdown in government accountability, they take action by reporting it.
Often that’s a difficult step to take, and whistleblowers deserve our gratitude. What they don’t deserve is what has happened to them in Missouri.
When Gov. Eric Greitens signed Senate Bill 43 into law over my objections last July, he removed longstanding protections for public whistleblowers. As a result, state and local government workers who shine the light on wrongdoing — who stand up to protect taxpayers and unmask government secrecy — are now at greater risk of retaliation, including being fired.
That must change. I’m urging state senators and representatives to pass legislation restoring and strengthening safeguards for those looking to expose wrongdoing in government. Bills to protect whistleblowers have been pre-filed by Sen. Jill Schupp of St. Louis and by Rep. Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City. When members of the General Assembly come back to Jefferson City this month, these bills — SB 786 and HB 1515 — deserve bipartisan support, full hearings and swift passage to put them on the governor’s desk.
While state law no longer shields public employees who identify wrongdoing in the workplace, I will continue to protect them, even — and especially — in the face of intimidation attempts by dark money groups that want to stop our work.
Missourians should know that reports to my hotline are protected by law and whistleblowers can remain anonymous.
So far in 2017, thousands of concerned state residents who have information on waste, fraud and mismanagement of taxpayer dollars have contacted my office. We examine each of these contacts, and take action when appropriate.
I encourage whistleblowers to continue to come forward to report inappropriate activity to the Auditor’s Whistleblower Hotline, 800-347-8597, or online at www.auditor.mo.gov/
The help of those who speak up when they see wrongdoing is vital in holding public officials accountable for abuse of their power. Legislators need to correct their mistake that leaves whistleblowers open to retaliation, and give them the protection they deserve for serving the public and protecting your tax dollars.
Nicole Galloway is Missouri state auditor.