The Whistleblower Hotline: Protecting You and the City
Since 1990 when voters first created the City Ethics Commission, the City Charter has mandated that the Commission maintain a 24-hour Whistleblower Hotline so that City employees and others can anonymously report alleged violations of City laws under the Commission’s jurisdiction, including any abuse of City position or resources. The Charter also mandates that the Commission treat all complaints and investigations confidentially.
The Commission’s Whistleblower Hotline was established by Los Angeles voters to ensure that City employees can alert the Commission to any potential violations without suffering retaliation from supervisors or other individuals in their departments.
The Whistleblower Hotline is a crucial tool in preserving the public trust. The laws that enact whistleblower protection serve a dual purpose—they empower City employees to act in the public’s best interest and, in turn, bolster the public’s confidence in the government. The individuals who use the Whistleblower Hotline stand up for the public, and the law protects them accordingly.
The Whistleblower Process
A complaint can be filed by mail, fax, online at http://ethics.lacity.org, or phone. The Whistleblower Hotline (1-800-824-4825) is operational 24-hours a day.
The types of violations that should be reported to the hotline include:
- Use of a City office or position for personal gain
- Violations of the City’s campaign finance laws
- Conflicts of interests by any City official or employee
- Violations of any laws or regulations by a City official or employee
- Theft of City funds or resources
- Abuse of authority by any City official or employee
When a complaint is filed with the City Ethics Commission, it is referred to the Commission’s Enforcement Division. If the complaint is found to be within the Commission’s jurisdiction, an investigator is then assigned to the case. If it is a matter outside the Commission’s purview, it is referred to the proper authority.
The investigator will then conduct interviews, review necessary documents, and take other steps to investigate the claim. If the investigation finds that there is evidence to substantiate the allegations, the enforcement staff then recommends that an enforcement action be taken. Depending on the nature of the case, the issue also may be referred for criminal investigation or to other enforcement agencies.
While the Commission staff is charged with investigating matters and determining whether probable cause exists to believe a violation has occurred based on standards spelled out in the law, only the Commission’s board of five appointed Commissioners has authority to determine if a violation has actually occurred. The Commission’s board also has authority to determine whether administrative penalties should be levied, and if so, in what amount.
Because Whistleblowers take a stand against fraud and waste in the City, their protection against retaliation is vital. It is a violation of the City Charter for anyone at the Commission to reveal the identity of an individual who files a Whistleblower complaint during the investigatory phase. Additionally, a whistleblower can file a complaint anonymously to further protect his or her identity.
Beyond guarantees of confidentiality and anonymity, the law directly protects whistleblowers from retaliation. Retaliation can take many forms. Suspension, termination, demotion, an unfair increase in workload, or transfer to another office so far that the commute presents a hardship for the individual are types of acts that are prohibited under Los Angeles Municipal Code 49.5.4 if they are done in retaliation for a subordinate filing a whistleblower complaint.
Of the 40,000 employees of the City of Los Angeles, few engage in acts of waste or fraud. However, those that do damage the reputation of all those in public service, and diminish the public’s confidence in the City. If you witness or suspect violations, use the Commission’s Whistleblower Hotline to help preserve the public trust and ensure that the City is working in the best interest of all the people.
City Ethics Commission Whistleblower Hotline 1-800-824-4825
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