Richmond City Council to reaffirm protection for whistleblowers
on October 15, 2013
The Richmond City Council plans to discuss and reaffirm the city code that protects employees from retaliation for expressing their opinions at its Tuesday meeting.
Richmond’s Human Rights and Human Relations Commission asked that the item be included on the agenda after receiving complaints from city employees who say their superiors discouraged them from speaking at public meetings. Several employees who have spoken before the commission have been punished, Vivien Feyer, the Human Rights and Human Relations Commission chair, wrote in an email.
According to Section C of the city’s municipal code employees “shall not be discouraged from or disciplined for the expression of their personal opinions on any matter, so long as the opinion is not represented as that of the city and does not misrepresent the city’s position.”
Feyer wrote, “It is important that the City maintains a strong network of Commissions and Boards, where employees and members of the public can bring their thoughts and concerns, visions and ideas. We hope to see a climate that encourages respectful discourse, rather than a climate of fear.”
In at least one case, an employee’s comments before the commission were cited as a primary cause for their suspension without pay, she said.
Bill Lindsay, Richmond city manager, said in an email, “no employee has been retaliated against simply for speaking at, or otherwise participating in a public meeting.”
“A public meeting does not create a ‘safe harbor’ for employees to engage in discriminatory behavior, such as using disparaging comments against another employee because of their race, sex, ethnicity, disability, etc. in violation of federal and state law and in violation of the City’s personnel rules,” he wrote.
Other items on the agenda include a discussion to consider reducing the fee for residential solar panel installation and an ordinance to ban alcohol billboards near schools.
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When working for government, citizens should not lose their right to free speech. But this is all too common and erodes democracy. Thank you for recognizing the value of whistleblowers.