City workers asked to do unethical acts More than quarter in survey of 300 report claim

'In line with everyday life'

Results should raise 'substantial concerns,' alderman says

November 14, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

More than a quarter of Annapolis' employees have been asked to do something "illegal or improper," according to a survey of 300 city workers.

However, the survey, conducted last month by the personnel department and public information office, does not make it clear who asked the employees "to do something unethical, illegal or against city policy at some point in their employment."

Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat who likely will run for mayor next year, said the results, published in the November issue of the city employee newsletter, raise "substantial concerns."

"The survey shows that this is clearly a problem," Snowden said. "What strikes me is that people aren't just doing unethical things, they are doing illegal things."

"I'm going to speak to [Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins] about this, and I'm hoping the administration will take a stance."

Hopkins could not be reached for comment.

The city employs 486 workers, of whom about 67 percent are male and about 33 percent are female, according to the survey. About 74 percent are white, 25 percent are African-American and slightly more than 1 percent are American Indian, Asian/Pacific and Hispanic.

Of the 300 workers who responded in confidence to the survey, 28 percent said they had been asked to do something unethical or illegal.

About 10 percent said sexual harassment was a problem within city employee ranks, and 11 percent thought race relations among city employees were not as good as they should be.

On the other hand, more than 87 percent of employees said they "were proud to let people know they work for the city of Annapolis," and about the same percentage said "they had great respect for their immediate supervisor," the study said.

TC But Snowden said it is inexcusable that so many people in the work force were asked to do something illegal or experienced sexual harassment or racial discrimination. He recommended that the city administration establish a mechanism to allow employees to be "whistle-blowers" so they can report wrongdoing without suffering negative repercussions.

Other city officials said the high numbers should not be alarming because the survey did not explain whether the requests were being carried out by employees or what "illegal and improper" meant to each person.

"I have to question the nature of what they think doing something unethical would be," said Frederick M. Paone, chairman of the five-member city Ethics Commission.

"People might consider ratting out a co-worker as unethical, and that wouldn't be true. I think the numbers might look worse than they really are."

However, Paone added that the city ethics code, which has been in place for more than 20 years, "is very, very weak."

"Short of someone doing something criminal, there's not much we can do about it," he said. "A new ethics code would have put some teeth into it."

In 1995, Snowden introduced a controversial ethics bill that would have banned elected officials from voting on issues in which they had a possible conflict of interest. It was defeated in May by a tie vote of the city council.

The bill would have prohibited use of the prestige of office for personal gain, specified restrictions on outside employment by city employees, restricted solicitation and acceptance of gifts and prohibited the use of confidential information for personal economic benefit.

It also would have required officials with possible conflicts of interest to seek an opinion from the Ethics Commission before taking any action on a matter.

Snowden said that in light of the survey, he most likely will introduce a new ethics bill. He was not sure whether he would resurrect his old bill or draft a new one.

Meanwhile, personnel director Chuck Davis said the numbers reflect "city life as a whole."

"I think [the numbers] are in line with everyday life," Davis said. "If the numbers were higher, I'd be concerned."

He said city officials conducted the survey to "get a feel for the climate, attitudes and operations of the city" and to improve communications between management and the work force. "Anything we can do to improve the environment for city workers, I'm willing to try it out," he said.

More surveys are expected, perhaps periodically, to find out trends and concerns that city employees might have, Davis said.

Pub Date: 11/14/96

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