Investigator: Nebraska senator’s behavior was ‘brainless & bizarre’

(Rebecca S. Gratz | Rebecca S. Gratz)
Published: Apr. 13, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - The special investigator called former State Sen. Mike Groene’s actions brainless and bizarre but stopped short of saying it rose to the level of workplace harassment.

“Our panel just reviewed the final investigative report prepared by Ms. Paulson,” said State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln.

In the last action of the Nebraska legislature Wednesday, Wishart — a member of the special personnel panel — read the executive summary of a report prepared by a special investigator.

Watch State Sen. Wishart read the summary

State Sen. Anna Wishart of Lincoln, a member of the special personnel panel, read the executive summary of a report prepared by a special investigator.

Groene, who represented North Platte in the Unicameral, resigned in February after one of his female staffers found photos of herself on the senator’s computer including what she described as close-ups of provocative body parts.

The attorney interviewed 10 people from legislative staffers to senators; Groene did not participate.

“Mr. Groene’s action can be best described as boorish, brainless, and bizarre, especially for the workplace. However, the complainant was oblivious to photos until she uncovered them while working on Groene’s computer,” Wishart said.

The Lincoln attorney who investigated the workplace complaint for the Legislature said she found no evidence that Groene had shared the photos of his female staffer with other senators or staffers — but he had sent four images of her to his wife.

The former aide, Kristina Kanecko, who has given 6 News permission to use her name, issued this statement to 6 News Wednesday night after the report was released:

“I do appreciate and am very grateful to Mr. Groene for hiring me all those years ago and earning his trust, it was like a badge of honor for me. Filing the complaint was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life, it was like betraying a friend.”

Kristina Kanecko, former aide to Mike Groene.

As part of her responsibilities, Kanecko was to ensure that Groene’s laptops were functioning, had the latest technology updates and that the desktop was clear, according to the report.

In January 2022, Kanecko discovered a photo of her on Groene’s desktop while clearing it. She went on to find around 50 more.

Kanecko was provided permission and the proper credentials to access his laptop on the day she discovered the photos, and the report also says she frequently accessed Groene’s legislative email and was occasionally asked to access his personal email, too.

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Several of the photos Kanecko discovered dated several years back, and many were sent to Groene’s personal email from himself. The subject lines of the emails said things like “CAMEL,” “BLONDE,” or “LEGS.”

One of the photos was captioned “Rear Tight” with a zoomed-in photo of her buttocks, it states.

“I conclude that Mr. Groene’s actions were unprofessional and inappropriate. In the private sector, the results of this would have most certainly resulted in disciplinary action up to and including termination,” Wishart said.

The report indicates the Nebraska State Patrol still has evidence in this case — likely Groene’s computer. The legislative investigator did not have access to it.

“Upon completion of the formal independent investigation into allegations of a workplace harassment complaint against Mr. Groene, I concluded Mr. Groene’s conduct likely would have resulted in corrective action, which may have included reprimand, censure, or expulsion; however, his conduct with respect to Complainant did not rise to the level of unlawful sexual discrimination or harassment under applicable law or the Policy. I also find that the Chairman, on behalf of the Executive Board, appropriately followed the legal standards and the Legislature’s workplace harassment policies.

To my knowledge, this is the first instance in which a workplace complaint has been formally investigated by an outside investigator.”

Report excerpt (conclusion)

Groene issued a statement to 6 News on Thursday:

“For nearly two months my name has been drug through the mud in a political witch hunt.

From the beginning I did nothing unlawful . In no manner did I harass any employee. All photos in my computer were private, never shared and taken in a public setting. Executive Board employees and a member of my staff broke into my personal work computer and invaded my privacy. I gave no one permission to do so . I was given bad advice from the Exec Board chairman, Speaker and Governor to consider resigning, without due process. In retrospect I should not have.

Americans have rights to their privacy, but not in the Nebraska legislature .”

Emailed statement from Mike Groene

6 News checked with the NSP about their investigation and was told it’s “ongoing” with no timeline on a conclusion.

Digital Director Gina Dvorak contributed to this report.

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