Blowing the whistle

Image from Wiki Commons

City auditor makes it easier for public to see complaints

The most famous whistleblower lately was the one who started the impeachment of President Trump.

While there’s no one so well-known or significant in Sacramento, City Hall has a whistleblower hotline for the public and city employees to report waste, fraud or abuse.

In the latest report, which the City Council received on June 2, the city auditor says the hotline received 90 cases from October 2019 through March 2020 and closed 64, leaving a total of 49 open cases as of April 1.

Of those 64 closed cases, only four allegations were substantiated. One was a complaint that a city employee dressed as a pimp for Halloween. That employee was the city’s new fire chief, who apologized after SN&R broke the story, with photos as proof.

“In hindsight, I realize my costume was a poor choice,” Chief Gary Loesch said in a statement to SN&R. “I apologize; it was never my intention to upset any members of the staff or the public.”

The complaint was referred to human resources and the office of City Manager Howard Chan, who called the costume “both insensitive and an error in judgment.”

It’s unclear, however, whether Loesch was disciplined. A spokesman said that the city does not comment on individual personnel matters. In general, the names of employees who are the subjects of allegations are also kept under wraps, except when the auditor refers them for disciplinary action.

In a second substantiated complaint, a Department of Utilities worker hit a gas main while digging unsafely. The employee was also referred to HR and the department for further review.

In another allegation, an employee was spotted loading supplies from a city vehicle into an SUV during work hours. That violated a civil service rule, and the complaint was sent to HR and the public works department.

And in the final substantiated complaint, the finance department did not publicly disclose some impact fees.

Among the other closed cases, five were investigated and referred, 12 were found to be false and 12 were unrelated to the city. The complaints included abuse of position or authority, employee conduct and violations of city policy or local, state or federal law.

While the identities of whistleblowers are kept confidential, reports of substantiated complaints are made public. So are completed investigations, even if the allegations are not proven, if disclosure is necessary to serve the public interest.

Since starting in 2012, the hotline has received more than 1,100 allegations, and has saved taxpayers more than $1 million, the report says.

For those really interested in the hotline, there’s now a dashboard where the public can see statistics and details on cases: cityofsacramento.org/Auditor/Reports/Whistleblower-Activity

To report fraud, waste or abuse, call 888 245-8859 or go to reportlineweb.com/cityofsacramento

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