BROOKSVILLE — With major shake-ups in three county departments in recent weeks, now would seem to be a good time to have a handy place to report county employees behaving badly.
But the Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai has announced that the experimental Ethics Hotline will be closed.
Over the past year, the hotline has received 72 calls, allegations of fraud, waste and abuse. Few, if any, of the tips have panned out, however.
The hotline has generated so many unfounded allegations that Nicolai decided to end the hotline so that auditor Peggy Prentice can get back to the business of auditing county operations.
"It was up for our annual renewal and Peggy and I talked about it,'' Nicolai said. "There were a lot of phone calls that weren't really leading anywhere. … We hadn't found anything of substance.''
As it turns out, none of the recent controversies in utilities, human resources and emergency management were revealed through tips on the hotline.
Prentice has many other duties and "it came down to the cost vs. the benefit and it really wasn't worth the time spent,'' Nicolai said.
She added that County Administrator David Hamilton has also increased the workload on Prentice because he continues to identify areas that he wants to see examined with an auditor's eye.
"We'll see a lot of work coming up,'' she said.
Prentice said she looks forward to following up on the examinations she expects to be directed her way by Hamilton. She still sees the value of the hotline, but the timing is not right.
"I think the hotline is a very good idea but we don't have the staff'' to look into every item that gets called in, Prentice said. "It was taking away from all of my other work.''
She said that she still anticipates hearing about employee issues in all the ways she has for years including phone calls, anonymous letters and notes slipped under her door. But she also said that the county's audit planning and prioritizing committee, which represents a variety of county departments, has a good pulse on where her services are needed.
Prentice added that the decision to pull the hotline doesn't mean it won't ever return. She said that it would be fairly easy to reinstitute it if circumstances change in the future.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.