Commissioners are considering creating a hotline that would allow West Palm Beach employees to anonymously report internal fraud, waste and other abuses.
This comes a year after the commission shot down a similar proposal by former Internal Auditor Imogene Isaacs.
Ike Robinson, the only commissioner in favor of a hotline last year, reintroduced the concept at a commission workshop Monday and asked new Internal Auditor Roger Strout to come up with a plan.
“One of the things I know we’re missing in this city is an opportunity for our employees to call in without going through administration,” Robinson said. “Right now now our employees do not have a venue.”
Mayor Jeri Muoio said employees already have ways to alert officials about problems, including an in-house ethics officer, the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector General and a suggestion box, which she said has garnered “good constructive ideas.”
Strout told commissioners that having a hotline is considered a best practice, but he said there isn’t an urgency to create one in West Palm Beach because of the other available methods to report abuse in the city.
A global survey conducted by Ernst & Young showed that while employees are willing to report fraud, waste and abuse in various ways, 57 percent chose to use a hotline where they can speak to a trained counselor, 20 percent preferred to write an anonymous letter similar to West Palm Beach’s suggestion box and 16 percent preferred an anonymous web site, Strout said.
Strout said one of his final initiatives at the city of Tampa was establishing an anonymous hotline which debuted in December.
Commissioner Shanon Materio raised questions about cost, and Strout said it came in at less than $10,000 a year in Tampa, which hired an outside company that provided counselors trained to follow up with complainants. The employees who use the hotline receive a tracking code because “if employees don’t see action, they lose enthusiasm,” Strout said.
Muoio asked City Attorney Claudia McKenna the legal ramifications of having a hotline and whether the city would be required to report the calls to the county Inspector General. McKenna said that if the city thinks it has an issue of fraud, waste and abuse that involves a contract worth $5,000 or more, the city is required to notify the Inspector General.
PatGleason, special counsel for open government in the Florida Attorney General’s Office, said Monday that calls to the hotline would be subject to the state’s public record laws unless certain confidential information is already exempt by state law. Gleason said the city’s suggestion box comments are also public record.
Muoio said there “has to be a lot of controls” in place before a hotline is set up and she said Strout should first focus on hiring an internal audit staff. Strout said he will put the hotline on his planning agenda.