Whistles Can Make a Lot of Noise

Enabling employees and citizens to bring attention to immoral or illegal behavior is a necessary goal, but North Kingstown may be creating a new tool for exactly the sorts of people that it wishes to disarm:

Town employees, vendors and even students can now complain online about government abuse — without fear of retaliation.
The complaint form is a few mouse clicks away and users don’t have to leave a name. …
… Visitors can log a variety of charges, from the serious to the outright criminal: conflict of interest, violation of policy, discrimination, harassment, falsification of contracts, substance abuse, theft or embezzlement. …
… those who fear retaliation can rely on the anonymous reporting system, which is handled by EthicsPoint, an Oregon-based company.
The complaints are reviewed by [Town Manager Michael] Embury, the school superintendent and members of the town audit committee, depending on the charges. A complaint involving the town manager or superintendent may be made directly to the audit committee through the EthicsPoint hot line or Web site.

So without any fear of repercussions, anybody in the world can whisper directly to key officials about disliked people and political enemies. That’s a pretty powerful weapon, and the safeguards are just about nonexistent:

Residents should try traditional channels first. “Everyone is encouraged to use the ‘chain of command’ to report problems or resolve disputes,” the new site says. …
Officials, meanwhile, hope the site won’t be abused.
Complaints are considered to be serious matters, they say. Users are urged not to “file frivolous or mischievous reports or in retaliation for slights, either real or perceived.”

Well, I would have hoped that political corruption and abuse would be avoided in the first place. Attacking those cancers with promises of secrecy isn’t fighting fire with fire; it’s adding gunpowder.

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13 years ago

I agree. There is an inherent danger in comments and judgments made from the safety of anonymity. While I defend the rights of people to have their say, I also believe that there needs to be a level of accountability for these comments.

13 years ago

Back in the early 90’s or so Cranston Police used to publish a form in the Cranston Herald that could be clipped out and mailed anonymously to the narcotics detectives to report suspected drug activity in one’s neighborhood. There were spaces for the address, license plates of cars observed, etc.
As I understand, it was a disaster. Neighbors sicking the narcs on each other after petty disagreements or grudges. Like who didn’t see that coming.

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