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New system would allow anonymous reporting of suspicious or improper behavior by county employees

A new fraud and ethics compliance hotline will give Columbia County employees more avenues for reporting concerns to department supervisors.

Last month, county commissioners reviewed a policy that puts extra steps in place to prevent fraudulent or unethical behavior within county operations.

The "fraud hotline" now allows employees to report suspicious behavior anonymously if they choose, and outlines a chain of command for monitoring and investigating complaints.

The new policy will be implemented by the county's finance director, and was created by county staff as a way to "provide employees with a confidential method of reporting suspicious activity, which is a significant step in deterring and detecting fraud and other wrongdoing," a county staff report states.

Magruder "We investigated the options out there and the team that was working on it came up with a good plan, so we're ironing out the details," Commissioner Margaret Magruder said. Magruder said the policy hasn't been adopted yet, but is slated for further discussion and will likely be approved at an upcoming commission meeting.

As dictated in the newly created policy, county managers and administrators will be tasked with maintaining "a system of internal controls," to prevent misconduct by county staff.

That holds managers responsible for being aware of and monitoring any potential risks or areas of exposure within their departments, and checking for irregularities. Columbia County's human resources director, along with the county treasurer, finance director, and county legal staff, collectively referred to as "Hotline Oversight," will be responsible for overseeing the program and making sure complaints and investigations are dealt with in a timely and cost-effective manner, according to the hotline policy.

Any reports of incidents or suspicious behavior will be managed by the Hotline Oversight team and assigned either an internal investigation by qualified staff, or an external investigation if necessary.

The new county policy comes on the heels of a major embezzlement case involving a former Community Justice Department employee who is believed to have altered or destroyed accounting records while pocketing cash from inmate payment transactions at the county jail. That case is still pending in Columbia Circuit Court. Not long after the internal theft issue was discovered, Columbia County officials were alerted to a similar issue involving CC Rider, the county's bus agency. In that case, a contracted driver is believed to have skimmed cash from a fare box on a bus with a regular route to and from downtown Portland. No charges have been filed in that case due to a lack of evidence to support criminal charges.

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