Following the revelation of impropriety and possible illegality regarding the manner in which Sarasota County government approves contracts, several current and former county-government workers said the did not alert leaders because they feared for their jobs.
Commissioner Jon Thaxton said even before the scandal broke, he conducted exit interviews with employees leaving the county, and some of those employees told him about wrongdoing in the procurement department.
“People felt intimidated into not bringing things up that could help the county,” Thaxton said. “I would ask them why they didn’t bring it up before, and they said they feared for their jobs.”
The procurement scandal broke in March when county employee Rodney Jones was arrested and charged with taking kickbacks in exchange for approving a county contract.
Other county employees soon were ensnared in the investigation, which ultimately claimed the job of County Administrator Jim Ley, who resigned last month.
Now, the County Commission will discuss instituting a whistleblower policy that will protect employees who report impropriety. Depending on the outcome of the preliminary discussion, commissioners may ask staff to create a draft policy.
Thaxton said he rarely takes a position on an issue before he sees its first draft, but in this case, he will be backing some sort of whistleblower policy.
“I would take the (former workers’) comments back to Jim Ley,” he said. “(Ley) would always look into it and report back. The report was always that it was a disgruntled employee.”
Thaxton said he now has learned that some of those employees were disgruntled because they reported wrongdoing and were either ignored or subjected to retaliation.
“There are things I wish I had done differently, but I did take things through the appropriate channels,” he said.
Contact Robin Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org.