Whistle-blowers gain new protection, members of the general public are empowered to offer information
CHICAGO -- Demonstrating once again his administration’s emphasis on significantly changing the way state government operates, Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich unveiled the first in a series of measures he intends to take that will impose stricter ethics standards on state employees under his jurisdiction.
Blagojevich signed a set of three executive orders Thursday that he said “answer a critical need for our state. It provides a logical and meaningful response to what has occurred in Illinois.”
“These executive orders are designed to change a culture of corruption that has permeated state government,” he said.
“From now on, higher ethical standards will be required—and expected—of state employees.”
A key result of the governor’s order will be the appointment of an individual who will be assigned to carry out investigations of potential acts of public corruption allegedly committed by any employee of the governor’s office or other parts of the government under his jurisdiction.
Additionally, the executive orders will empower members of the public to report any instances of corruption, provide greater protections to state employees who turn over such information and instruct state employees about the ethics rules that they are supposed to follow.
The measures announced today represent the second round of executive orders that the new governor has issued since taking office last week that are aimed at dramatically reforming state government.
Last week, he terminated more than 30 of the previous governor’s last-minute political appointees, froze the ability of agency heads to acquire new cars or pad the state payroll, and appointed a new special investigator to determine the qualifications of people holding jobs throughout the state government, as well as the need for such positions in the first place.
Blagojevich stressed that his work on strengthening ethics and cleaning up state government would not be limited to the actions announced today.
“Stopping public corruption and improving ethical standards will be ongoing priorities for my administration. The people of Illinois expect a new day of integrity, of openness and accountability—and they deserve a government as good and honest as they are,” the governor said.
The executive orders unveiled Thursday included the following reforms.
1. CREATION OF AN INDEPENDENT INSPECTOR GENERAL AND ESTABLISHMENT OF ETHICS HOTLINE.
Blagojevich’s executive order calls for the establishment of an independent Inspector General who will be assigned to investigate any allegations of corruption or any other misconduct by any employee in his office as well as any agency, department, board or commission directly responsible to the governor.
To ensure the greatest degree of independence, the Inspector General will have a full staff and will have direct and ongoing access to the governor, and will report to him.
He stressed that “every supervisor, every employee, who is responsible to me should understand that cooperating with the Inspector General is not just something you should do—but something you should want to do,” adding that uncovering corruption will win an employee praise from the governor.
In addition to creating the new inspector general’s position, the executive order also allows individual citizens of Illinois to play a role in reporting and uncovering any instances that have witnessed involving corruption or unethical behavior.
As part of this executive order, Blagojevich will direct the Inspector General to establish a “Citizens Ethics Hotline,” a toll-free phone number that any member of the general public can call to anonymously and confidentially report instances of public corruption.
“This hotline will put the public to work as our eyes and ears to help ensure higher ethical standards,” he said.
2. WHISTLE-BLOWER PROTECTION.
Blagojevich’s second executive order encourages employees to come forward with information and protects them when they do.
“This administration will protect whistle-blowers,” Blagojevich said.
The executive order will allow for personnel action to be taken against anyone who retaliates against a whistle-blower.
Currently, state law makes it illegal to intimidate, silence or threaten whistle-blowers. The governor said that he seeks to take immediate administrative action to punish people who threaten whistle-blowers.
“In my administration, whistle-blowers will no longer be viewed as trouble-makers --- instead, they will be encouraged to act as trouble-shooters,” the governor said.
3. ETHICS TRAINING FOR ALL STATE EMPLOYEES.
“Reforming a system of corruption requires more than simply replacing corrupt public officials,” he said.
“We must also change the culture— and establish a new mindset.”
To accomplish that goal, Blagojevich’s third executive order mandates an ethics training program for all state employees. The training will be set in motion by the governor’s general counsel.
The sessions and related documents would be designed to clear up any lingering questions that employees or the public might have about what constitutes proper and improper behavior. The governor stressed that such training has become common in the private sector in the wake of Enron, and will become standard operating procedure in his administration.
Blagojevich added that further ethics reforms will be included in legislation which he will be developing in partnership with Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Such legislation will be introduced in the future in the legislature.
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Executive Order Number 3
Executive Order Number 4
Executive Order Number 5