News Bulletin file

Council adopts whistleblower policy for City of Nanaimo

Policy designed to protect staff members who wish to report potential wrongdoing

City of Nanaimo employees looking to blow the whistle on potentially inappropriate behaviour by their colleagues can now look to a new policy for guidance.

Nanaimo city councillors voted unanimously to adopt a whistleblower policy and a privacy policy during a council meeting on Monday night. Councillors voted on each policy separately.

The whistleblower policy outlines a process for city employees – as well as mayor and council – wishing to report allegations of wrongdoing by others without the fear of reprisal. The privacy policy will serve as a guideline for how the city collects and handles an individual’s personal information.

According to a staff report, the whistleblower policy replaces the city’s reporting serious misconduct policy while the privacy policy is expected to be the “foundation” of the city’s privacy management program. The report also called the city’s reporting serious misconduct policy “inadequate for its intended purposes” after it was used to “trigger an investigation” into alleged wrongdoing.

The policies are in response to recommendations made last year by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and KPMG, the city’s auditor, the staff report notes.

Under the whistleblower policy, all reports of wrongdoing by a city employee must be made to the chief administrative officer. Allegations “directly” about or involving the CAO must be reported to the mayor. Elected officials wishing to report allegations of wrongdoing must raise their concerns with the mayor or chief administrative officer.

Wrongdoing, according to the policy, includes acts or omissions that create “substantial” and “specific danger” to an individual’s life, health and safety or their environment outside of the normal risks associated with the duties of their job. It is also defined as a “serious misuse” of public funds or assets as well as “gross or systemic” mismanagement.

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During Monday’s meeting, Jake Rudolph, the city’s chief administrative officer, urged councillors to adopt the whistleblower policy.

“This policy has been in the works for months with the best legal counsel that we can have,” he said. “I have full confidence in this policy and the staff behind it. So, I’m hoping that I’m not sensing a lack of confidence from council on this policy because it is the best we have and it is the best out there.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he was pleased and supportive of both policies, but Coun. Tyler Brown expressed concerns about the chief administrative officer and the mayor as the designated individuals who receive whistleblowers concerns.

“The policy seems to be hinged on those two positions around how whistleblowers can blow the whistle…” he said. “I know organizations when there are bad actors that happen to occupy certain positions it creates a scenario that some may not feel comfortable blowing the whistle or in even worse-case scenarios they may raise issues to attention and they go nowhere.”

Brown also wondered whether the city could create a third-party organization or body to deal with issues raised by whistleblowers.

“I have no idea how this could be achieved, but it would have some sort of actor independent of the organization, that would provide an outlet for staff members, council, those that may wish to bring issues to attention, and important issues to attention – especially considering the topic matter – that are not dependent upon those two positions being the gatekeepers,” he said.

Coun. Sheryl Armstrong said she believes the policy should allow for people to report any misuse of public funds regardless of the severity.

“I think they should be able to come forward with any misuse of public funds, not just serious, and to me that just reads serious,” she said. “To me, I think you should be protected whether it is a $50 or a $5,000 or $50,000 [expense], so I struggle with that.”

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog told councillors the policy does not stop anyone from complaining about anything, and that it is merely policy that protects people who whistle-blow.

John Van Horne, the city’s human resources director, told councillors the reason the CAO and mayor are designated in the policy is because having other management involved could create additional issues.

“If [complaints] were to say, fall to me as director of human resources, I still report to the chief administrative officer position, so it would insert some of the problems that we are trying to avoid,” he said.

Van Horne said the policy does allow for anonymous complaints. He also said there will always be concerns about how a whistleblower policy will function but that the policy is based on “about the best” possible legal advice.

“We have got to realize that this policy is intended to bring about change within the organization so that the public can have better trust in us,” he said. “If it turns out that in the operation of this that there continue to be problems, I’m fairly confident that the city’s lawyers will be tapped for some advice.”

Council’s decision comes in the wake of a lawsuit by former senior manager Brad McRae, who claims he was fired from his job as retaliation for his refusal to ‘cover up’ his boss’ spending of city money. The city has denied those claims.

RELATED: Former Nanaimo senior manager says he was fired for not ‘covering up’ CAO’s spending 
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