One of the last actions Terry Lewis helped coordinate before he stepped down Jan. 20 as interim Sarasota County administrator was the implementation of a new anti-fraud policy for all county employees as well as the County Commission.
Approved by the commission Jan. 10, the policy provides detailed guidelines on how to report suspected fraud and how to prevent retaliation toward those who do. It also lists sanctions for violations.
The policy had been recommended by Karen Rushing, the clerk of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, as one of numerous responses to the Procurement Department scandal that erupted in county government last spring. One of Lewis’ major responsibilities during his seven months in office was helping the county take steps to prevent any recurrences of ethics violations.
“The objective is to regain public trust,” Lewis said last week. “Established policies … needed to be in place,” he added.
The guidelines outline the expected responses of any employee who sees or believes unethical action has taken place in county government, Lewis said.
“I think it’s always good to have policies spelled out in writing for folks to see and have an expectation,” Commission Chairwoman Christine Robinson said.
“The bulk of our employees understand (this policy) already,” Robinson added.
Steve Uebelacker, the ethics and compliance officer Lewis hired last summer, has been providing ethics training to county employees over the past two months, Robinson said, so they know how to handle any situation they feel is inappropriate.
The policy points out that no person “who has acted in accordance with (its) requirements … shall be dismissed or threatened with dismissal, penalized or intimidated or coerced.”
Anyone “who has a reasonable basis for believing a fraudulent act has occurred, or is occurring” should report that action promptly in a signed, written notification to the person’s supervisor or department head or to Rushing, the policy says. If an employee wishes to make a report anonymously, the employee may do so by calling the county’s prevention hotline.
The policy also says county commissioners, supervisors and department heads should immediately notify Rushing of any fraudulent activity an employee reports to them.
Among the actions the policy points out as fraud are the following:
• Forgery or altering of county documents or accounts
• Forgery or alteration of checks and other financial documents
• Misappropriation of funds and other assets
• Offering or accepting bribes or illegal gratuities
• Disclosing confidential information to outside parties
• Acting on conflicting interests that cause financial harm to Sarasota County
• Destroying, removing or inappropriately using records, furniture, fixtures and equipment
• Authorizing or receiving compensation for hours not worked
Sarasota County’s new anti-fraud policy
As approved this month by the County Commission, a new Sarasota County Government Anti-Fraud Policy encourages employees, administrators and the county commissioners to adhere “to the highest standards of moral and ethical behavior … ”
It says all county employees and the commissioners should set the appropriate tone for intolerance of fraudulent acts “by word and deed through compliance with all federal, state and local laws, rules, regulations and policies.”
The policy also requires the following of department heads, supervisors and members of the County Commission:
• They “should be aware of the types of fraud that could occur within their areas of responsibility and should be alert for any indication of fraud.”
• They “are responsible for establishing and maintaining proper management controls that will provide for the security and accountability of the resources entrusted to them.”
The policy stipulates that “Persons reporting suspected fraudulent activity should refrain from confrontation with the subject and should not discuss the matter with others unless specifically asked to do so” by Karen Rushing, clerk of the 12th Circuit Court and county comptroller.