Whistleblowers need clearer city protocols
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It's no wonder that government whistleblowers are few and far between.
For starters, they can't be sure their informing will lead to a change for the better (assuming they are motivated by such a benign goal).
And once they take the leap of faith, they never know what consequences await them. Will there be retaliation, they wonder, and if so, will they have recourse?
As it is, local government seems to handle the issue of whistleblower protection unevenly.
Advertiser staff writer Jim Dooley combed through the settlement of Philip English's whistleblower lawsuit against managers in the city's real property assessment office. His finding: The record illuminated the need for more uniformity in dealing with these cases.
He cited the deposition of Denise Tsukayama, a city affirmative action officer. Tsukayama testified that the city's employee training problem is inadequate as a means of educating workers and managers of their rights and responsibilities under whistleblower protection laws.
She would seem to be right, judging by the lawsuits that have been filed alleging retaliation.
A few city departments have established training for supervisors and employees in handling whistleblower complaints. Ken Nakamatsu, city human resources director, says that educating employees on whistleblower laws is covered during mandatory training on sexual harassment and workplace violence in all departments, and does not need its own separate session.
That may be reasonable enough, but it's clear that handling the complaints could be improved in other ways. For example, having one agency manage the issue would ensure more consistency and accountability in checking out reports of misdeeds and guarding against retaliation.
Nakamatsu said that his administrative budget request will include funds for a position dedicated to the oversight of whistleblower complaints. That's a significant step toward making the city's policies clearer.
It might help prevent some lawsuits, or at least mitigate the damages the city ends up paying in these cases. And, most critically, it should improve the likelihood that if there is malfeasance by a public employee, the public can hear about it and see that it's corrected.