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Eau Claire County hires attorney to assist with DHS investigation

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EAU CLAIRE (WQOW)- In a new development, Eau Claire County officials have hired an outside attorney to assist the sheriff's office with its investigation into the Department of Human Services.

According to Nick Smiar, county board chairperson, about three weeks ago, the county hired attorney Rich White to assist the county sheriff's office in the investigation.

Smiar said due to a conflict of interest between the two county departments involved, the county cannot appoint its own corporation counsel to the investigation, forcing the board to find assistance outside of county governance.

Smiar says the board hired White, who is the former county district attorney, not to defend the DHS of any misconduct, but to work alongside Sheriff Ron Cramer in his investigation.

"I made a decision, along with our vice chair, to hire outside counsel to work with the Sheriff to encourage cooperation and logical procedure," Smiar said.

As we've reported, the Eau Claire County Sheriff's Office is investigating the county's Department of Human Services over a $1.2 million error in its 2019 budget, putting the department roughly $3 million in the red. A former department employee is also charged with stealing gift cards from the department.

A forensic audit of the department was proposed to the county board, but was ultimately tabled after Sheriff Cramer chose to proceed with his own audit using his department's funds. The county is still determining the cost for Attorney White's services.

Smiar says he hopes White's experience in law will help the sheriff get through the investigation smoothly, and quickly clear the department of any wrongdoing.

Evan Hong

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