making local government more ethical

Whistle-Blower Protection

This is the place to discuss the protection from mistreatment by superiors of municipal employees who file complaints or act as witnesses in ethics proceedings. Significant issues include the need and effectiveness of such protection, and the language necessary to make it effective as well as to prevent officials and employees from hiding behind it to make political attacks. Please share your experiences with various sorts of whistle-blower protection, as well as with instances where the lack of it has made a serious difference.

110. Whistle-Blower Protection.

1. Neither the city nor any person, including officials and employees*, may take or threaten to take, directly or indirectly, official or personal action, including but not limited to discharge, discipline, personal attack, harassment, intimidation, or change in job, salary, or responsibilities, against any official, employee, or other person (or against any member of their family) because that person, or a person acting on his or her behalf, (a) reports, verbally or in writing, or files a complaint with the Ethics Commission regarding an alleged violation of this code, or (b) is requested by the Ethics Commission to participate in an investigation, hearing, or inquiry, or is involved in a court action relating either to the alleged violation or to evidence presented or given as part of an Ethics Commission investigation or hearing. The provisions of this section are not applicable when the complainant, witness, or reporter of a violation made accusations or other statements that were malicious and false. A violation of this section is a violation of this code.

2. Anyone who alleges a violation of subsection 1 may bring a civil action for appropriate injunctive relief, or actual damages, or both within ninety days after the occurrence of the alleged violation. A court may order reinstatement of the plaintiff to such a suit, or the payment of back wages, full reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights, actual damages, or any combination of these remedies. A court may also award the plaintiff all or a portion of the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney fees and witness fees. The initiation of such litigation is not a violation of the confidentiality provisions in 100(10) or 213(9).

Comments: Without whistle-blower protection, city employees - the people who best know what is going on in the city government - will be unlikely to come forward with reports of ethics code violations. It is difficult enough to betray the strong feelings of loyalty that exist in most workplaces, and almost impossible when speaking out endangers your job and pension. With whistle-blower protection, city officials will know their violations might be reported and, therefore, will be more likely to act consistent with the code (that is, their personal interest in protecting themselves will be closer to the public interest in their acting fairly and impartially).

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