Officials at the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District say a board member's accusations of financial impropriety within the district are potentially defamatory and could warrant legal action.
Scott Japp, who represents Washington County and parts of Burt, Thurston and Dakota Counties, sent a letter to Attorney General Jon Bruning asking State Auditor Mike Foley to investigate NRD accounts.
But the auditor's report came back clean. Foley said Japp is simply misinterpreting the numbers.
“He's not grasping some of the fundamental (accounting) concepts,” Foley said. “We've tried to explain it to him, politely and professionally, but he's just not satisfied.”
Japp said Tuesday that he hadn't seen the auditor's response, which was posted to the NRD website and sent to each director two weeks ago.
“I've asked for an official response from Mike Foley, and I have not received that,” he said.
“An email from the auditor's staff is not an official response.”
Japp has clashed regularly with fellow board members and district staff since his election in 2009.
He opposes the district's large dam projects and has accused managers and fellow board members of being too close to developers.
The board voted in April to censure Japp for what it called a pattern of rude and abusive behavior toward district staff and other board members. Two weeks later, Japp sent the letter to Bruning.
NRD General Manager John Winkler said the district's lawyers have identified a half-dozen defamatory comments in Japp's letter, which raises the possibility of a lawsuit.
It's not clear whether the district would sue one of its own board members.
“I can't speak for the board, but I believe all options are on the table,” Winkler said.
Board Chairman Fred Conley said the board is still trying to figure out its options “with regard to the inconsiderate and false statements (Japp) has been making to various state agencies.”
“What Mr. Japp is doing is really starting to weigh on the staff,” he said.
Japp said he's not worried about a defamation lawsuit. He said much of the friction would disappear if district staff were better at accommodating his requests for information.