March 25, 2009

Inbox — March 25, 2009

Letters to the Editor

Let Me Clarify

I am writing in regards to Phillip M. Bailey’s article in the March 18 LEO Weekly. The information presented in the article does not accurately represent what I discussed with Mr. Bailey. In our discussions, I could tell that Mr. Bailey was not listening to my explanation of the issues that have precluded us from implementing a hotline. I am not questioning his motives, but he seemed to have his mind settled regardless of the facts I provided.

The article is misleading as to my actions regarding a hotline for Louisville Metro Government. For the record, at no time have I “urged the city to adopt an anonymous tip line for its employees.” I have not made recommendations for a hotline that “repeatedly stalled out in the mayor’s office.”

The facts of my work regarding hotlines were explained to the reporter several times but are not accurately presented in the article. I have worked on two proposals regarding hotlines. Both proposals were intended for discussion only. Neither proposal resulted in a formal recommendation to implement a hotline.

The issue, as repeatedly explained to Mr. Bailey, is the potential for abuse by employees because of open-records requirements. The inability to address this issue is what has precluded the implementation of a hotline, not that “the mayor’s office has consistently opposed” it. The seriousness of this issue should not be dismissed.

Until the abuse issue is satisfactorily addressed, it would be irresponsible, and a disservice to the hardworking employees of Louisville Metro Government, to move forward with the implementation of a hotline. As I told Mr. Bailey, I do not recommend implementing a hotline until this issue is addressed.

The August 2008 report on Louisville Metro’s Ethics Program states that Louisville Metro does not have a comprehensive system for reporting criminal conduct or possible ethical violations. The recommendations include a statement regarding a reporting system that facilitates anonymous reporting and provides 24/7 coverage. It further explains the potential for abuse. This is as close to a formal recommendation for a hotline that I have made and is what the state auditor referred to in her report on the Louisville Metro Department of Housing and Family Services.

Mike Norman, Chief Audit Executive, Louisville Metro

Mayor’s office responds

I’m writing to set the record straight following the inaccurate, misleading story on anonymous tip lines for reporting alleged fraud, abuse and unethical activities in local government.

Four years ago, Mayor Jerry Abramson and Chief Robert White created the very successful anonymous tip line for criminal complaints – 574-LMPD.

Anyone, including city employees, can share tips about crimes, including fraud and abuse. And people have reported allegations of criminal wrongdoing by city employees.

The mayor supports the idea of an anonymous tip line for complaints about non-criminal but unethical behavior by employees. Over the past few years, his staff has discussed several options with Internal Auditor Mike Norman for an anonymous ethics tip line that would create fairness and protections for both the accuser and the accused.

There are two distinct challenges:

• Protecting callers’ identities when Kentucky’s Open Records Law requires disclosure.

• Reducing malicious use of a tip line to falsely malign city employees and officials.

The Internal Auditor has explored several models but has thus far been unable to come up with an approach that he is satisfied would sufficiently overcome these challenges.

Mayor Abramson supports the Metro Council’s ongoing efforts to improve the city’s ethics rules. He encourages the council’s ad-hoc ethics committee to talk with the Internal Auditor and develop an ethics tip line that is fair and workable.

Omitted from your story were the existing avenues for complaints by and against city employees:

• Criminal complaints – People who have information about criminal wrongdoing should call 574-LMPD.

• Ethics complaints – People with ethics complaints or questions can contact the Louisville Metro Ethics Commission at 574-6426 or Internal Auditor at 574-3291.

• Workplace rules and discipline complaints – Employees who have complaints or grievances on workplace rules, treatment or discipline can contact the Human Resources Department at 574-8100.

We urge employees to use these avenues, and there are laws on the books to protect them from reprisal. We will continue working with the Internal Auditor and Metro Council on ways to ensure fair, honest government.

Chad Carlton, Communications Director, Office of Mayor Jerry Abramson

Editor’s Note: We disagree with Mike Norman’s assertion that we have misinterpreted the events reported in Phillip M. Bailey’s story. The fact is, an anonymous tip line was proposed at least twice since 2005, and it repeatedly stalled out in the office of Mayor Abramson. Norman went on record with that information, and our story matches the records of the conversations Norman had with Bailey about this issue. Norman’s argument about recommending an anonymous tip line seems semantic: In official parlance, he did not make a recommendation but a proposal. In common language, the two are indistinguishable, we believe.

Furthermore, LEO Weekly attempted to obtain documents from Metro government outlining, from January 2005 to the present, what work had been done — both by Norman and the mayor’s office — regarding the discussion and implementation of an anonymous tip line. The county attorney’s office denied that request, citing part of open records law that protects “draft” or “preliminary” documents. In this context, the mayor’s office is responsible for labeling documents “draft” or “preliminary.” We have filed an appeal with the office of the attorney general of Kentucky so that we may hopefully obtain the records.

I stand behind Bailey’s story and reporting 100 percent.

Flagging Integrity

I read with great interest your article on an anonymous tip line for Metro Louisville government. For months I have been trying to raise an issue of unethical hiring practices within Metro Louisville, and have several letters to the editor of The Courier-Journal to that effect, which have never been published.

Perhaps you, LEO, will have the journalistic integrity to look into why these hiring practices are allowed to continue.

Bob Schwartz, former Louisvillian, Ft. Meyers, Fla.