Goins resigns amid questions about conflicts of interest, improper use of state email

Emails revealed meetings steered toward his cigar lounge, promotion of a political campaign event

By: - April 5, 2023 12:08 pm
Tony Goins

Tony Goins announced his resignation Wednesday as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. He’s pictured here at a press conference last year with then-Gov. Pete Ricketts. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The state’s top economic developer, Tony Goins, announced his resignation Wednesday morning amid questions about conflicts of interest between his state job and co-ownership of a Lincoln cigar lounge.

The concerns, raised in stories by the Nebraska Examiner, were not mentioned in a statement from Gov. Jim Pillen in accepting the resignation of Goins, who had served as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development since 2019.

On Tuesday, Pillen — who reappointed Goins to the $215,000-a-year job in November — said through a spokeswoman he took the reports about the director’s relationship with his private business “extremely seriously and expects the utmost integrity from all members of his cabinet.”

Tony Goins, who resigned Wednesday as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, owns 51% of this Lincoln cigar bar. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

On Wednesday, the governor, in a press release, thanked Goins for his “honorable service to our country as a United States Marine and wishes him and his family the best.”

“The Governor’s Office will have further communication concerning future leadership for the Department of Economic Development in due course,” the statement continued.

The Examiner stories, based on state emails obtained through a public records request, detailed instances when Goins directed business to the Capital Cigar Lounge, in which the director has a 51% ownership interest.

Included were emails directing DED employees to set up state business meetings at the cigar bar and a state email promoting a political campaign event at the bar. On Tuesday, it was revealed that the lounge received two COVID-19 grants from DED, though the agency indicated that the grants recipients were chosen by computer.

State accountability and disclosure laws prohibit a state agency director from taking “profit” from outside businesses and ban the use of state email to promote a political cause. Conflict of interest statutes block state officials from using their position for financial gain for themselves, their immediate family or businesses they are involved in.

In February, after being contacted by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission, Goins filed a statement of financial interest that indicated his majority ownership of the cigar lounge and that the business was paying for a $1,187 monthly lease on an SUV he drives.

Exactly who will lead the Department of Economic Development is in question after Goins’ resignation. The deputy director of the agency, Dan Curran, announced his resignation Monday.

Served ‘honorably’

Goins issued a resignation statement Wednesday morning, saying that it was a privilege to serve the state and that he had served “honorably every step of the way.”

He noted that DED had handled more than $8 billion in economic development funds, helped create more than 7,000 jobs and led the effort to distribute economic recovery funds during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Goins said that he was not asked to resign and that the decision was “my decision alone.”

“Despite our strong record of success at DED, in recent days, I have been the target of false attacks with respect to a cigar business (in which) I have an ownership interest, but do not operate and do not profit from,” his statement read.

Goins said the stories were a “gut punch” to his reputation and his family, and “a distraction” from his work at the economic development agency.

The department, which has about 127 employees, works with Nebraska communities in increasing jobs and business expansion.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.