Lancaster County Treasurer Andy Stebbing was reimbursed at least $70 for mileage costs for driving to and from the Lincoln Auto Auction in Waverly over the past two years.
Stebbing, who has been accused of selling cars without a dealer’s license and helping customers evade taxes, purchased those cars at the auto auction, based on investigative reports by the Nebraska State Patrol.
Getting paid for mileage that is not connected to work is a violation of state and county rules, but Stebbing says the trips to the auction were on county business.
“My best ideas come from the public, my staff, my own two children and the dealers,” Stebbing said in a telephone interview.
Stebbing said he went to the auction to talk with dealers, who routinely use the treasurer’s office, and to solicit ideas for improving the office.
Stebbing mentioned two improvements that came directly from his dealer contacts at the auction: being able get titles and get refund checks for returned plates that day at the treasurer’s West O office.
Previously those could be handled only at the 46th Street location, he said.
“Those are just two off the top of my head,” Stebbing said.
Retired County Treasurer Richard Nuernberger said the auto auction in Waverly is not a place a county treasurer needs to drive to as a part of the job.
“There is no reason for a county treasurer to go to the auto auction,” Nuernberger said, when asked about what kind of business a treasurer would have at the auction.
Nuernberger said he would get reimbursement for mileage as county treasurer when he went out of town on office business, like a meeting at a bank in Hickman.
Stebbing said Nuernberger never left the office: “He joked about that."
Stebbing also said he put in for a fraction of his expenses in order to keep costs down.
“I was going to the auto auction not to deal on cars, but to meet constituents and get ideas,” he said.
A review of Stebbing's expense reports since October 2015, which corresponds with the period of the state patrol investigation, showed Stebbing was reimbursed for at least 128 miles covering 10 trips to the auction. The county uses federal mileage guidelines, which ranged from 54.7 cents to 54.5 cents per mile over the three years.
The auto auction trips were part of a total reimbursement for Stebbing of almost $2,300 for mileage over 18 months. Most of the mileage reimbursement covered trips between the three treasurer’s offices: 555 S. 10th St.; 625 N. 46th St. and 500 W. O St.
Stebbing stopped seeking reimbursement for mileage after March 2017.
Those reimbursements for the auto auction trips might be in violation of the county rules and state law covering travel and mileage reimbursement.
County employees and elected officials can be reimbursed for mileage for driving their own vehicles in connection with their jobs. But they cannot be reimbursed for miles driven for private or personal reasons, according to Doug Cyr, chief deputy county attorney.
The state auditor’s office has apparently asked for Stebbing’s expense reports. When asked about an investigation, state Auditor Charlie Janssen said, "We have been asked by the attorney general to look at some items but we can't discuss details at this time."
Todd Wiltgen, current chair of the Lancaster County Board, says his review of Stebbing’s reimbursement reports has raised concerns beyond whether the trips were for official county business or not.
The level of detail on the expense reports is inadequate, said Wiltgen. For example, Stebbing wrote brief descriptions of where he was driving to and from on the reports, often using DT, 46R and WO for the three treasurer’s offices.
At least 10 times, Stebbing wrote "auto auction," "auto auction Waverly," or simply "auction" on those expense reports.
In addition, Wiltgen believes Stebbing should not have been allowed to approve his own reimbursement claims.
Expense reports from all county department heads, except elected officials, are reviewed and approved by Kerry Eagan, the county board’s chief administrative officer, Wiltgen said.
The County Board will be reviewing procedures "to ensure we do not have this issue in the future," Wiltgen said.
Stebbing has been charged with five felony counts. They include two counts of falsifying bills of sale, two counts of filing fraudulent state income taxes and one count of selling cars without a license.
He appeared in court Sept. 22 for a procedural preliminary hearing, but has not made a plea on the charges.
Stebbing has said he will not resign from office during the court procedures and that he plans to run for re-election
Wiltgen, a fellow Republican, has called for the treasurer’s resignation.
“The fact that he has not resigned is disrespectful to the county taxpayers or employees, and the fact that he has talked about running for re-election is insulting,“ Wiltgen said.