A Colfax County commissioner under criminal investigation was found deceased Tuesday morning in Richland, according to Colfax County Attorney Denise Kracl.
Kracl, who is also the county’s public information officer and coroner, told The Telegram that Colfax County Dispatch received a call at 8:18 a.m. in reference to a man lying in a yard in the 300 block of Tilden Street – more specific location details weren’t immediately available. Law enforcement officials a few minutes later arrived on the scene, where they pronounced Commissioner Jeffrey Bauman dead.
Foul play is not suspected, Kracl said, though she declined to speculate about the cause of death. She said the Nebraska State Patrol was called to investigate, an autopsy was ordered and the investigation is pending.
“No one is being sought in connection to the case,” Kracl said.
Bauman was in the midst of his term after taking over the District 1 seat, which encompasses a portion of Schuyler, Leigh and Richland, in January 2017. He wasn’t up for re-election this year. Colfax County Clerk Rita M. Mundil said as part of their roles, she, Kracl and Colfax County Treasurer Janis Kasik will be responsible for finding someone to finish Bauman’s term.
“We will have to appoint someone for that position,” Mundil said.
According to court records, charges were officially filed against Bauman by Platte County Deputy Attorney Elizabeth Lay on Nov. 2. Lay was prepared to serve as special prosecutor on the case after being appointed by the Colfax County Court because of Bauman’s direct affiliation with Colfax County to prevent any conflict of interest.
Kracl said she brought the issue up to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office for possible further investigation. She said local agencies cannot initiate any form of a criminal investigation against an elected official without the authorization of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.
The charges filed against the commissioner stem from his alleged involvement with pushing forward two Colfax County roads projects without navigating through the proper legal channels, according to court records.
Bauman was charged with eight misdemeanor offenses, including: Two counts of official misconduct, Class 2 misdemeanors; two counts of violating provisions regarding contracts or liabilities in excess of budget prohibited, Class IV misdemeanors; two counts of violating the open meetings act, Class IV misdemeanors; and two counts of violating the competitive bidding act, Class IV misdemeanors.
The Class 2 misdemeanor offenses carry a penalty of up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both. The Class IV misdemeanors carry a maximum sentence of a $500 fine and no jail time.
The two counts of official misconduct, court records show, stem from Bauman allegedly authorizing improvements to Colfax County Road 4 and County Road C while in the process violating state statute.
Counts three and four allege that Bauman entered contracts to have road work completed on County Roads 4 and C which resulted in the expenditure of money not provided for in the county’s 2018 budget.
Counts five and six accuse the commissioner of violating the Nebraska Open Meetings Act by not placing on the agenda and having the public body (Board of Commissioners) vote on action undertaken by Bauman in relation to both projects, according to court records.
Count seven directly relates to Bauman allegedly violating the County Purchasing Act and laws of public letting by not securing and recording at least three informal bids for improvements that would equal or were in excess of $10,000. The improvements to County Road 4 totaled $24,000, according to court records.
Charge eight, related to work completed on County Road C, states that Bauman violated the County Purchasing Act and laws of public letting by not completing the competitive sealed bidding process as required by state law for county road improvements equaling or in excess of $50,000. The improvements to County Road C totaled $64,000, according to court records.
During a previous interview with the Schuyler Sun, The Telegram’s sister paper, Commissioner Jerry Heard said that the County Road C project was carried out without the knowledge of two commissioners, including himself, although at the time he didn’t specifically say who else didn’t know.
Bauman in a later interview with the Sun said that he commissioned the project because the road needed immediate repairs due to safety concerns and didn’t consider the overall cost exceeding the limits on the County Purchasing Act. When he realized the infringement issue, Bauman said he didn’t think it made sense to abruptly stop the project.
Prior to his passing, Bauman was scheduled for an arraignment in Colfax County District Court on Nov. 28 with Judge Christina Marroquin presiding over the hearing.
Sam Pimper is the news editor and Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram, respectively. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.