Thursday, October 2, 2008

Whistle-blower protection bill will benefit taxpayers, officials say

A whistle-blower-protection bill signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will mean savings for local governments, Oakland-area officials contended Wednesday.

"Nowhere is it more important than in city and county government for us to provide whistle-blower protection," Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda, said in a news conference on Oakland City Hall's steps, calling the bill he'd written "a good-government measure that won bipartisan support."

Oakland City Auditor Courtney Ruby, who'd approached Swanson about introducing such a bill more than a year ago, said the bill will prove crucial in coaxing public employees to come forward with information on "fraud, waste and misuse of government resources" — itself a crucial concern in tough economic times, when cities and counties are "called to do much more with much less."

Oakland City Council President Ignacio de la Fuente said with all the concerns of possible ethics violations in the city's government in recent months, "it's even more important than ever" for employees to be explicitly protected when they voice concerns. "We hope this will be used as much as possible."

Swanson's AB2001 gives cities and counties explicit authority to create and maintain whistle-blower hotlines with guarantees of privacy and job protection, something only the state has offered until now.

The state Senate approved it Aug. 5 on a 24-8 vote, and the Assembly passed it 78-0 two days Advertisementlater; Schwarzenegger signed it Friday.

The Oakland City Council last month voted to provide $250,000 a year to fund a new whistle-blower protection program; Ruby at the time had said that includes a $130,000 salary for a program manager, $100,000 for investigating complaints, $10,000 for a 24-hour hotline and $10,000 for outreach.

Ruby said Wednesday that she hopes to launch this program in the next few months; meanwhile, "there are complaints coming into my office, and we are addressing them with the resources I have now."

She cited a recent report by the Association of Fraud Examiners, which found that more than 50 percent of the fraud uncovered in government agencies is detected via whistle-blowers' tips, and a typical organization loses 7 percent of its annual revenue to occupational fraud.

Oakland City Hall was rocked last summer by the Deborah Edgerly scandal, in which the city's top nonelected official was fired amid allegations of nepotism and interfering with a police investigation.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums eventually fired her in early July; a federal grand jury has subpoenaed city records involving Edgerly, her closest City Hall adviser and four of their relatives.

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  • Whistle-blower protection bill will benefit taxpayers, officials say
  • Whistle-blower protection bill will benefit taxpayers, officials say
  • Whistle-blower protection bill will benefit taxpayers, officials say