Ashland Council Challenged to Deal with Accountability around the Whistleblower
Ashland recently lost a major whistleblowing case. This
failure resulted in liabilities of over $625,000 for damages and attorney’s
fees not including its own legal costs funded through a regional government
insurance coverage that ends up being paid by taxpayers. The case showed
multiple retaliatory acts by city staff for whistleblowing type complaints
going back to 2010. The case also showed that the whistleblower’s action
initiated changes that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings
to the city for engineering projects.
The whistleblower was the only licensed engineer in the Public Works Department at the time. He had oversight responsibility for all projects. Why was he not kept informed about water the water treatment project? When he came forward with valid concerns, what were the motivations to punish him?
Instead of acknowledging its wrongdoing the city applied the full force of its legal staff. Not once did the city try to settle the case. And at the trial it was evident that a “pile-on” legal strategy was used in a failed attempt to discredit the whistleblower.
The jury unanimously found the city violated the Whistleblower law and awarded maximum monetary compensation for damages to the whistleblower.
Ashland lead employees are highly paid … having salaries and benefits totaling well over $100,000. The taxpayers have a right to expect that these employees understand and follow employment laws. The following people could have and should have protected the whistleblower and saved the taxpayers from paying for their mistakes.
Human Resource Director,
Current and past Public Works Directors,
Deputy Public Works Director, and
Public Works Superintendent
Why are these employees still employed by Ashland? What’s the plan to ensure this does not happen again?
Ashland should put into practice its policies for whistleblowing to be consistent with our Governor’s approach for transparency and encouragement of employees to come forward without fear of retaliation.
There’s opportunity to change this combative culture through the current City Administrator if she had more support in that effort … and with a changed mindset in the city council to pursue it.
Mr. Mayor in your leadership role it’s your responsibility to do due diligence, take necessary actions and change the punitive culture.
Sue Wilson, Ashland