EDITORIAL: Ethics investigator is money well spent

EDITORIAL: Ethics investigator is money well spent

(File Photo)

Alexandria’s reputation took a big hit in 2011, when a slew of public employees were charged with criminal activity that ranged from theft to child pornography. Workers from multiple sectors of the city government — including police officers, a public school teacher and a recreation center director — made courtroom appearances.

The Port City began to resemble the Windy City.

The corruption outbreak was especially troubling when we compared Alexandria to U.S. cities of similar size, like Sunnyvale, Calif., and Springfield, Mass., which reported few to no employee arrests.

To his credit, then-Acting City Manager Bruce Johnson immediately responded with new policies that tightened internal controls and reformed hiring procedures. The changes helped, as only one employee was arrested the following year.

Ethics reforms have continued under City Manager Rashad Young. The most recent change is another welcome wrinkle: a newly created position within the department of human resources responsible for investigating ethics, fraud and grievance complaints. It is a logical block in the reform edifice that city officials began erecting in the wake of 2011’s ethical train wreck.

Johnson’s revamped hiring procedures and controls on money handling served as its foundation. Atop that, officials added an anonymous complaint hotline and new software to track grievances.

The hotline has been particularly effective: more than 100 complaints have been acted upon in less than 12 months. Officials found, however, that most were personal grievances that were then being investigated in an irregular manner. Complaints in some departments were handled internally while other agencies farmed out investigations. This clearly did not make sense.

Tasking one internal employee to examine complaints from all departments should increase the consistency and quality of investigations. The position will allow the city to more readily identify and eliminate misconduct as well as better address personnel-related worker complaints.

We applaud the city for all of the steps taken since the tidal wave of ethical lapses of 2011. While one bad apple may not spoil a whole barrel, it does cast an odious smell on those in the surrounding vicinity.

Alexandria is a vibrant city of history and tourism with well-educated, active residents. We don’t want or need our reputation sullied by public employee misdeeds. Though the budget is tight, adding an internal ethics investigator is a prudent move.