San Francisco Whistleblower Program Is Failing, Grand Jury Says

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This program blows
Last week we outlined just how negative San Franciscans are, especially when it comes to trusting local government. Now the Grand Jury has released a report validating our bad attitudes.The city's Whistleblower Program -- which is one way to garner the public's trust -- is failing miserably.

So while "good government" has become a pleasant buzz phrase, the report says, it doesn't mean anything if we don't have a quality whistleblower program to alert the public of misconduct and abuse before it becomes endemic. 

"Nearly eight years after its relaunch under a 2003 charter amendment, the Jury finds that the San Francisco's Whistleblower Program has failed in its mission to promote the identification of waste, fraud, and abuse," according to the 32-page report.
In 2003, the city amended its charter with Proposition C, which shifted the whistleblower program from the Ethics Commission to the Controller's Office. The impetus was a local scandal originating from the Port, where workers had been accused of falsifying records and using stolen property to remodel their homes.

The idea was to create better oversight so the city could dodge bad press and costly civil lawsuits. But that hasn't necessarily been the case.

The Grand Jury report outlines several instances where poor record-keeping and lack of knowledge of the program has put the city in a bind. In one instance, a longtime San Francisco General Hospital employee filed a whistleblower complaint in 2004. He was later placed on involuntary sick leave in 2007 in what he believed was retaliation. He filed a grievance, which the city settled this year.

"Under the current configuration, there is no way to truly protect whistleblowers," the report concluded.

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Derek Kerr
Derek Kerr

The Whistleblower Program rates complaints as "High", "Medium" or "Low" Risk. High-Risk means a high-level official was reported, or the loss of $50,000+. These complaints are usually  sent to the City Attorney...who defend high-level City officials. This may explain there is no protection from retaliation. We are treated like a threat and a burden. Why hasn't the Controller done an Audit to find how often retaliation occurs after High-Risk complaints? And why does it take years to get these High-Risk complaints investigated? Why are the outcomes kept secret? It's like a Risk-Management program that protects City officials from whistleblowers.

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