City whistleblower program reveals misuse of resources 

Voters approved plan in 2003 to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of city property

Public employees building a storage unit on city time, taking home city-owned chairs or using a fire truck to run errands — all these infractions were uncovered this year by The City’s two-year-old Whistleblower Program.

The program was established in the Controller’s Office two years ago, as a result of legislation approved by voters in November 2003. Since it began in August 2004, the program has received 466 complaints, all of which have been investigated, according to program Director Jodi Darby.

Seventy-four of the 222 complaints received this year were "true whistleblower cases," alleging waste, fraud or abuse of city resources, according to Darby. The rest fell under the purview of other city departments.

Whistleblowers can call a hotline, fill out a complaint form online or send an e-mail or letter.

Darby said details of the investigations, such as who is found at fault, are not disclosed based on the advice of the city attorney. The program is effective, she said, having uncovered wrongdoing that has even resulted in the suspension or termination of city employees. The program "shines a spotlight" on city business, she said.

This year, based on a complaint, the program found that three carpenters and one painter were guilty of "making a storage unit on city time and with Department of Public Works materials," according to a report released by the Whistleblower Program.

At least one complaint about the misuse of city vehicles proved true this year. A San Francisco Fire Department truck was parked outside of a business while a firefighter was inside "ordering materials for personal use and the crew waited outside," according to the report. The firefighter "admitted misuse" and received a written warning, according to the report.

The program also uncovered the fact that a nonprofit organization that was receiving grant money from The City’s Department of Public Health was inadequately running a substance abuse counseling program at a high school. The nonprofit eventually closed down the program, and the 18 students it served were put into other programs, the report said.

One city employee was reported for removing eight city chairs from a Department of Human Services worksite. According to the report, the employee thought it was acceptable to take the chairs home since they "were being replaced with new ones," the report said.

City residents also sometimes find themselves under investigation by the Whistleblower Program. One resident was reported for running a used car business out of his home without a city permit, another for painting curbs without The City's knowledge.

jsabatinie@examiner.com

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