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State auditor says small-town utilities chief used city workers to build his home


State auditor says small-town utilities chief used city workers to build his home

May 26, 2023 | 1:43 pm ET
By Paul Hammel
State auditor says small-town utilities chief used city workers to build his home
A state audit says that the utilities superintendent in Madison used city workers, on city time and using city equipment, to help build this home (courtesy State Auditor's Office)

LINCOLN — State Auditor Mike Foley is seeking action against a small-town Nebraska utility manager who he says used city workers and equipment to help build his personal home.

On Friday, the auditor filed a complaint against Jim Lewis, the utility superintendent in Madison, with the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, alleging that he used public resources for personal gain.

Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley
State Auditor Mike Foley, who served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Pete Ricketts  (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

Foley also referred other findings from a recent audit to law enforcement officials, and alerted city officials, in a letter, to his audit.

Cashed in rebates

He alleged that Lewis misappropriated city property, abused public records, and cashed in Menard’s rebates due to the city.

The audit said that city workers, on city time, made dozens of trips of between 30 and 70 miles to Norfolk to purchase materials for Lewis’ home, and that city vehicles were used to deliver materials.

Lewis, the audit stated, had also asked city employees to lie about their work on his home.

Lewis, when reached at the Madison utilities office, admitted that he screwed up, but said that it was common practice for utility crews to help local residents.

We helped everyone

“If someone needed help, we helped them,” he said. “We did it for everyone around town.”

Lewis, who has worked 44 years for the city, said that he had mistakenly grabbed the wrong Menard’s rebate vouchers, but had repaid the city $390 for the rebates that were cashed in by his wife.

But the auditor, in a press release, said that city, a month later, “repaid” Lewis the same amount for the cost of renting a forklift used for work on the city’s auditorium renovation.

Documentation inadequate

Foley said his office received no documentation to support how the amount of the reimbursement was determined, “which appears woefully inadequate in light of the significance of the allegations made against him.” 

The audit was launched after complaints were received about the practices at the utilities office.

Lewis, when asked, said he felt they were politically motivated after his son-in-law was elected mayor recently.