Elected officials' work habits fair game for scrutiny

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

There are reporters who dream about receiving this kind of assignment.

The assignment in question was one performed by Omaha World-Herald reporters this summer, after one of them noticed State Auditor Charlie Janssen leaving Brewsky’s, a popular Lincoln sports bar, about 3:15 p.m. Monday, June 4.

Off and on over the next couple of months, reporters were assigned to have lunch there, as well as checking the auditor’s parking spot at the Capitol and spotting his vehicles parked at the bar as well.

A month ago, they began more carefully documenting his whereabouts nearly every workday, before and after the lunch hour and later in the afternoon.

After 125 documented observations of his vehicles in 47 days, the World-Herald broke the story that Janssen, who is up for election this year, was spending excessively long lunch hours at the bar, often heading home early in the afternoon.

The auditor responded Friday by admitting the reports are true and apologizing to Nebraskans for his work habits.

He promised to clean up his act, and pointed to numerous cases of fraud and abuse his office has uncovered while coming in under budget each year.

Nebraska Democrats naturally called on Janssen to resign, labeling him as the poster child for waste, fraud and abuse while collecting an $85,000 a year salary.

Republicans responded with allegations of heavy drinking by State Sen. Bob Krist, who is challenging Gov. Pete Ricketts in November. Their ammunition included video of him at Billy’s Restaurant during legislative business hours, pouring himself a drink behind the bar and driving away with a cup in his hand.

The GOP previously sent the videos of Krist, supposedly nicknamed “Tequila Bob,” to the Nebraska Liquor Control Commission, which, in turn, shared them with the Nebraska State Patrol.

The patrol investigated in May and decided not to bring any charges.

For his part, Gov. Ricketts rejected calls for Janssen’s resignation but said the auditor had seven weeks to prove to the voters he could perform the job in a professional manner.

Others have called for the state auditor position to be an appointed rather than an elected position, which might have avoided the current flap.

It’s no secret that alcohol lubricates the wheels of government at nearly every level, but voters have a right to be disgusted with workday behavior that would quickly find the ordinary employee on the unemployment line.

It also points out the importance of an independent press willing and able to expose that behavior to the citizens who elect those leaders.

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