MOUNT VERNON — If an employee becomes aware of dishonest or illegal activities occurring in their company, they can blow the whistle on the activity and the perpetrator. But, in telling a higher authority of the misdeed, they can put themselves in a tough position. Will the alleged perpetrator try to enact revenge? Or in the case of telling on a supervisor, will the whistleblower be fired or mistreated by the superior?
Because of that scenario, protection must be given to the whistleblower. The Ohio Revised Code has a section that protects the whistleblower from retaliation or being fired. Now, the city of Mount Vernon has its own whistleblower policy, which went into effect in September 2012.
“A few years ago, the auditor (of Ohio) suggested we develop a whistleblower policy,” said Mount Vernon Mayor Richard Mavis. “We knew we weren’t unique, so we went to other cities to see what they had. We developed ours from a compilation of what we found in other cities.”
“My understanding was that came up in the specific context (of that audit in 2009). There were employees who felt that policy was necessary and that they weren’t able to respond to what they felt they needed to. That’s why that recommendation was in there. It came out of the specific circumstances of the time,” said Mike Maurer, spokesman for Auditor of State Dave Yost. “If the city management feels this would benefit them, they can do so. It gives a little bit of guidance to their employees about how to responsibly and effectively report wrongdoing.”
Mavis said there are three different whistleblower policies, one with the police, one with the fire department and one for all other service departments. The purpose of the policy is to encourage and enable individuals to address serious concerns with the city, its practices and/or personnel while protecting the rights of the persons involved.
The policy applies to all employees, officials and volunteers of the city of Mount Vernon and they are encouraged to report violations of ethical standards and/or federal or state laws and regulations.
Once a violation is reported either orally or in writing, the city will make efforts to identify the violation and take appropriate corrective measurers within the first five days of the allegation. The policy states that after five days, if the city has not made a good faith effort to correct the violation, the whistleblower may file a written report with the prosecuting attorney or the police.
“Once we are notified, its something you’re not supposed to sit on. If it’s serious enough for a worker to get up the courage and tell, it’s something we want to act on quickly,” Mavis said.
The safety-service director will most likely be involved in the investigation of any allegations, but Mavis said the mayor and/or the law director may also be involved as would be the department supervisor.
One of the biggest reasons to have the policy, according to Mavis, is to protect the person that has reported the violation.
“If someone comes in and says their supervisor or a co-worker has done this, we will begin the investigation. But, generally, everybody wants to know who made the complaint. That’s something I don’t feel we have to divulge,” said Mavis.
But, even though there are 160 full-time employees of the city, many of the departments are very small. If someone in one of those smaller departments makes a complaint, Mavis knows that it can be tough to keep anonymity. He said he hopes this policy will help those who see something unethical or illegal to feel comfortable enough to step forward.
When the policy was put into place, Mavis said the city created a log-in sheet that enabled them to know whether a service employee has received a copy of the rules and policy.
So far, though, Mavis said no one has made any claims that would be covered by the whistleblower policy.
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