May 27, 2024

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Whistleblower claims mostly true, but not improper

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The Kansas Adjutant General’s office has responded to allegations made June 29 by a whistleblower, confirming that many of the claims are true but not in violation of state or federal rules.  Some managers at the Kansas Department of Emergency Management (KDEM) did receive additional compensation, and the AG’s office didn’t dispute claims about money spent on new electronic equipment and meals.

While a third-party review of the whistleblower allegations has yet to be made, a letter sent to Kansas Rep. Shannon Francis, (R-Liberal), and obtained by the Sentinel, suggests the complaint is the response of a disgruntled former employee.

On June 29, Jackie Craine, a former employee of the Kansas Division of Emergency Management, sent a letter to nearly every Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives alleging serious abuses at KDEM — which reports to the Adjutant General’s Office.

Those allegations included improperly charging salary increases to a federal grant and using federal grant monies for everything from Apple Ear Pods, to $100,000 in catered meals from the Topeka Country Club, to using interns to conduct personal business.

However, the internal review, according to the letter from Lt. Col. Dana W. Graf, who is the executive officer to Kansas Adjutant General Major General David Weishaar, found the expenses were legitimate and says Craine’s claim that misinformation was provided “is false.”

Graf noted that Craine was hired on “Jan. 17, 2020, as the Fiscal and Grants Management Director.” Graf wrote that Craine was “terminated during her probationary period on June 23,” — less than a week before her complaint — “by the state comptroller (Michael E. Neth) for numerous infractions to include insubordination, disclosure or personal information and unauthorized agency purchases.”

Craine alleged that several employees received raises that were irregular at best. However, according to Graf, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maj. Gen. Lee Tafanelli [then-Kansas Adjutant] requested temporary pay increases for several employees, which was approved by Governor Laura Kelly.

Craine said Deputy Director, Angee Morgan went from a base salary of approx. $93,000 to an increased rate of approximately $140,000. Response & Recovery Branch Director, Jonathon York went from a base rate of approximately $83,000 to $124,000 and planning Branch Director, Byran Murdie went from a base rate of $78,000 to $119,000. She noted another employee, Terri Ploger-McCool got a retroactive raise.

All of this was true, but Craine alleged the managers were not working overtime.

According to the letter, the opposite was actually true, and details that all of the employees who received temporary raises — which were to equal roughly 26 hours of overtime per pay period — were all working anywhere from 30 to 66 hours of overtime per pay period.

Craine said the way the additional salaries were billed, was improper, but according to the letter, that simply wasn’t the case.

Craine also alleged improper equipment and meal purchases, but the letter indicates those expenses were proper and necessary.

The Colonel flatly denied that interns were used to run personal errands, as alleged by Craine, but did admit equipment purchases were made to “support remote telework operations” including new laptops, iPads for mobile operations, iPhones for additional staff, and Apple Airpods for teleconferences.

“These items were purchased specifically for teleconferences and to meet hands-free travel policies,” Graf wrote. “All equipment is inventoried and issued to designated staff based on operational need. No equipment is or has been ‘gifted’ to staff.”

Kansas State Representative Mike Houser, (R-Columbus) said he believes the Colonel’s explanation.

“I’ve known Lt. Col. Graf for years now, and after reading his statement have no reason to believe the accusations have much merit,” Houser said in an email. “While it may appear that everybody got a new laptop, phone, or whatever, I believe the Colonel’s explanation to be a factual account of the situation. Legislators get issued laptops every year and check them back in when session is over. 

“When the lockdown started … office employees were allowed to work from home. They had to buy all kinds of new hardware to connect the displaced workers to the system. 

“As far as the meals go, I can understand the Colonel’s explanation. It’s hard to make the call of it being inappropriate or not. The funds were to be used to support the states and the states’ response teams. I don’t see anything that really screams foul.

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