LINCOLN — State Auditor Charlie Janssen issued an apology to Nebraskans on Friday and pledged to take immediate steps “to make changes in my personal and professional life” following a World-Herald investigation revealing short office hours and long lunches involving beer drinking.
The 47-year-old Republican, in a prepared statement, said he was “not a perfect man” and acknowledged that The World-Herald story was accurate.
“I apologize to the citizens of Nebraska for some of my choices, and effective immediately I am taking steps to make changes in my personal and professional life,” he said. “While I deeply regret my past actions, I urge citizens to look at the work we are doing in the State Auditor’s Office.”
The statement came in the wake of a World-Herald story documenting short working hours at his office and long stays at a Lincoln sports bar. Over the past 20 working days, the auditor, on at least 10 of those days, had lunch at the bar and was observed on five of those days drinking beer. The lunches often ran more than three hours. He often spent more time at the bar than at his State Capitol office during that time period.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
The story prompted the Nebraska Democratic Party to call on Janssen, who is seeking re-election to the $85,000-a-year post, to remove his name from the November ballot.
“Nebraska voters did not send ‘Chugging Charlie’ to Lincoln and pay him $85,000 a year to sit around with his buddies drinking beer in a sports bar,” said Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Democratic Party.
Janssen is being opposed by Jane Skinner, a part-time library specialist from Omaha and a political novice. She pledged Friday to be a “full-time auditor.”
“The people of Nebraska deserve better,” Skinner said.
But the state’s top Republican, Gov. Pete Ricketts, provided some defense of the auditor in his prepared statement.
Ricketts said that while he does not approve of the auditor’s actions, Janssen had “taken personal responsibility for his choices.”
The Auditor’s Office has done good work under Janssen, but the governor said his personal support for the auditor’s re-election will hinge on whether Janssen fulfills his pledge to change.
Meanwhile, a political science professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha said the auditor’s conduct “has the look of impropriety.”
“When a highly paid state elected official is fraternizing during his work hours, it looks really bad,” said associate professor Greg Petrow.
Janssen, in his statement, did not respond directly to the call for him to be taken off the ballot, and instead asked voters to look beyond his failings and look at the accomplishments of his office. He declined to say what changes he was making in his life and did not respond to a request to release his cellphone records to back up his statements that he was using his cellphone to work outside the Auditor’s Office.
The Auditor’s Office said Janssen uses his personal cellphone for auditor’s business, thus there are no public records of his calls. On Thursday, the office confirmed that he did not seek reimbursement from the state for his tavern lunches.
The newspaper’s story drew swift reaction on social media, with many saying the conduct was inappropriate for a state constitutional officer. A couple of callers criticized the report, with one calling it pathetic.
One reader, Spencer Mathews of Council Bluffs, said he called the toll-free “fraud, waste or abuse” hotline operated by the State Auditor’s Office to report Janssen’s conduct. He said he was told that Janssen’s conduct could not be considered a violation of law because the state auditor, as a constitutional officer, has no requirement to work 40 hours a week, work at the office or to refrain from drinking during working hours.
Mathews called the response “pretty hypocritical,” adding, “He’s getting paid not to do work.”
The World-Herald confirmed that the call was made to the Auditor’s Office and confirmed the office’s response.
In his prepared statement Friday, Janssen noted that the Auditor’s Office has come in under budget each of his four years in office and has uncovered numerous cases of fraud and abuse, saving taxpayers millions of dollars.
“We have helped several government bodies address and correct problems and irregularities so that they can better serve the citizens,” Janssen said. “We have done the work we have been tasked with, and we have done so efficiently and effectively.”