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Council acts to protect whistleblowers

Friday, December 15, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Council acted unanimously and without discussion Thursday to prevent members of the Ethics Review Commission from gaining access to the names of whistleblowers and witnesses in cases that come before the commission. In response to a request from the attorney for former police monitor Margo Frasier, commissioners had voted to subpoena records held by the City Auditors Office, including the names of witnesses and any statements that they made. However, City Auditor Corrie Stokes told Council that revealing the names of witnesses would jeopardize the city’s anonymous reporting system. In February, Council will take up the matter of subpoenas again. Stokes told the Austin Monitor on Thursday that she believes that the motion Council passed would prevent the commission from getting the names and statements they had previously requested, but they need to address some other issues. For example, she said the commission had attempted to subpoena former City Manager Marc Ott, who lives and works in Washington DC. The Council needs to address subpoenaing out-of-state witnesses, she said, because such actions have implications for the city. Stokes said the subpoena was issued by the outside counsel for the Ethics Review Commission but she did not know what had happened with it. Now that the commission has subpoena power, she said, “we’re starting to see it play out in specific cases and Council needs to get clear themselves on what they think is appropriate.” Nathan Wiebe, chief of the auditor’s investigative unit, said commissions which have subpoena power need training so they will know the “appropriate parameters for utilizing,” that power. He noted the Municipal Civil Service Commission also has the authority to issue subpoenas and Stokes said subpoena power is also proposed for the Citizens Review Panel.

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