Public employee arrests plummet in Alexandria

Public employee arrests plummet in Alexandria

By Melissa Quinn

Officials saw a significant drop in acts of malfeasance on the part of public workers last year after a string of arrests marred City Hall’s image in 2011.

Just a single city worker was brought up on criminal charges last year: An employee at the Lee Recreation Center was arrested after a manager caught him stealing $65 from a register in late December. He has since resigned, officials said.

That stands in stark contrast to 2011, which saw the arrests of 11 employees for a variety of charges, including two found guilty of embezzlement. Though City Manager Rashad Young considers 2011 an anomaly, he said the bevy of arrests acted as a catalyst for internal reform.

Young, in conjunction with the city’s human resources department, crafted an ethics initiative early last year, which included the creation of an ethics hotline, whistleblower protection policy and new training for city staff.

“I believe employees come to work and do the right thing every day,” Young said. “These issues gave visibility [to problems], and we were already on a path to look at issues and conversations expressed as concerns.”

The city formed the ethics initiative committee — comprised of police officers, human resources staff and representatives from various internal boards — to spearhead the reformation. New policies were enacted as early as March.

Four months later, the city launched the ethics hotline — a service that allows city employees to report potential violations via an anonymous tip line.

And in the six months since its inception, the hotline has received just 16 calls. Two were referred to the human rights office, and none were criminal in nature. Other calls, Young said, may deal with issues like software problems and administrative concerns.

“Employees know there is a safe environment so [they] can speak out,” he said.

While city employees attended training in the past, Young and his team made it mandatory for all staff — from full-time department heads to seasonal hires — to complete an online ethics course. And every two years, the city requires employees to retake the training.

Senior managers and upper-level staff, though, participate in additional workshops. And training can happen at a department’s request.
Thus far, more than 3,000 city employees completed the ethics course, with 90 managers taking part in ethics seminars.

“Employees responded well, and there is constant dialogue,” Young said. “It remains a value constantly talked about.”

Mayor Bill Euille is impressed by Young’s efforts as well as the steep decline in arrests among city employees.

“It’s a testament to the fact that folks understand how important it is,” he said. “All in all, the plan is … long overdue, but nonetheless, it’s one that is there and I’m very pleased with it.”

Though the ethics initiative addresses internal issues and concerns, the city plans to unveil a new service to engage the public later this month.
Call, Click, Connect — an anonymous hotline and web service — allows residents to report incidents involving city employees.

“It’s the Alexandria way to engage the public,” Young said. “They trust us and have faith in us, and it’s important to deliver the mission.”

Though the city has seen the success of the initiative, Young believes the past year’s drop in public sector malfeasance is indicative of employees’ values and morals.

“I feel encouraged by the responsiveness of the team,” he said. “It’s a good sign to me, the kinds of issues that are there [now]. It’s a sign of the integrity of employees and good visibility.”