Borough enacts new whistleblower protection policy

Policy protects borough employees to report matters of public concern without fear of retribution

Local provisions for the protection of whistleblowers were passed at last Tuesday’s Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meeting. Prior borough code did not have a policy to protect whistleblowers, or people who expose potentially illegal or unethical information within an organization.

Alaska law provides protections for whistleblowers but allows municipalities to create their own whistleblower policies.

The new policy protects borough employees and management to report matters of public concern without fear of retribution. Borough-specific whistleblower protections help to ensure the borough is held to the highest standard in transparency and ethical behavior, according to the ordinance, which was introduced by assembly members Kelly Cooper and Hal Smalley.

“It was found that the borough doesn’t have a whistleblower policy and with the current political climate locally and nationally, we thought it was important that the borough is held to the highest standards,” assembly member Brent Hibbert said at Tuesday’s meeting.

During assembly discussion, Cooper clarified the ordinance was not a result of the #MeToo movement, which is an international movement against sexual assault and sexual harassment.

“I just think it’s important that our code reflect appropriately and our state statute does actually reference municipalities on how they can bring (whistleblower policies) into their code and I think it’s important we bring it to our level,” Cooper said.

Assembly member Norm Blakeley moved to table the ordinance until current litigation against the borough ceased. Blakeley did not specify which lawsuit he was referring to, however, the borough and Mayor Charlie Pierce were recently sued by the borough’s former human resources director, Sandra Brown, who alleged she experienced disability discrimination.

“I would think under the present situation with the litigation — if we could postpone this and maybe even turn some of it over to our state representatives and get the state to do this…” Blakeley said.

The policy will be added to the borough code, but it will not be a part of required training for employees, Cooper said.