“City staffers unaware of ethics hotline,” proclaimed a recent headline in the Stamford Advocate (Ocasio, 2016). The city had “quietly rolled out” an internally run telephone hotline in 2013. So quietly, it seems, some city employees and members of the city’s Board of Finance and Board of Representatives were not aware of it until recently, three years later.
Said one Board of Finance member, according to the Advocate, “The city needs to educate the city employees that this hotline exists and how to use it.”
As reported, city employees were notified by email shortly after the hotline was launched in 2013. Since then various city departments have received training about the city’s code of ethics and what would violate it. Whether or not that training also covers the hotline and its use is not addressed in the newspaper story.
It is seldom easy to maintain a constant state of high awareness about any program, including an ethics hotline. The effort to send out an email notification when the hotline launched was an important step in this case, but even if it was accompanied by a major communication effort at the time, a one-time communication campaign is not sufficient to maintain hotline awareness.
If a city wants to ensure its employees, managers, and board members are aware of its ethics hotline and how, when, and why to use it, more needs to be done. As addressed in our November 2014 blog post “Ethics Awareness for Municipal Employees,” it takes regularly scheduled, ongoing training and other efforts directed at all employees and other stakeholders.
In addition, a city will be able to boost hotline awareness if it supplements formal training with additional small and low-cost but frequent efforts. For example:
- Anniversary linked communications: email blasts or other short internal messages sent during the hotline’s anniversary, or during National Ethics Awareness Month (March), or during Compliance and Ethics Week (November)
- Badge-holder inserts: business card-sized inserts with the hotline’s name, logo, and telephone number or URL
- Department head meetings: brief updates about ethics and the ethics hotline as a regular agenda item (so that department heads can communicate the same)
- Low-cost brochures or posters: refreshed and redistributed throughout the year
- Giveaways (small items): pens, pencils, refrigerator magnets, or other small items that contain the hotline’s name, logo, and telephone number or URL
- New employee orientations: use them not only to inform new employees about the hotline but also as an opportunity to distribute badge-holder inserts or giveaways
These are just some examples of ways that cities and other municipalities can boost staff awareness of their ethics hotlines and other ethics programs. As we have said before, a program that incorporates timely orientation for new employees, annually reminds all employees about the ethics policies and services, and adds a little fun into the mix occasionally, will help build and sustain an ethical culture.
Ethical Advocate helps city, state, and local agencies take their ethics and compliance programs to the highest level of excellence. Contact us for more information.
Ocasio, Keila Torres. “City Staffers Unaware of Stamford Ethics Hotline,” Stamford Advocate, April 4, 2016. http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/City-staffers-unaware-of-ethics-hotline-7223477.php