Where Are the Whistle-Blowers?

Why City Workers Don't Speak Out

"They obviously weren't investigating the decision to award the contracts, just how word got out," Mae Dick, the agency's former literacy director, told the Times.

Others also found the Giuliani-era DOI more obstacle than solution. In 1996, The New York Observer and the Daily News reported how the career of a 25-year veteran executive at the city's Off Track Betting Corporation named Richard Dangler was abruptly curtailed after he told DOI about several issues involving top OTB execs with conflicts of interest. DOI eventually told Dangler they found nothing wrong. But his bosses somehow learned all about his cooperation with the investigators and, after telling him he was disloyal, promptly fired him.

The city's whistle-blower protection law, enacted in 1984, is supposed to make sure that doesn't happen to those who report corruption. To that end, Gioia's hearing of the council's investigations committee was aimed at determining if DOI was doing enough to alert city employees.

Harding: His City Hall ties scared off would-be whistle-blowers.
photo: Keith Bedford
Harding: His City Hall ties scared off would-be whistle-blowers.

A quick survey by council staff found there were holes in the safety net. Three of 14 Inspectors General offices told council callers that they'd never heard of such a thing as a whistle-blower law. Three others said they were sure such a law didn't even exist.

Testifying at the hearing, DOI first deputy commissioner Alain Bourgeois acknowledged that the agency needed to do more to educate employees and staff about the law and vowed to do better.

There are positive early indications from the agency. Unlike the Giuliani administration's approach, Bloomberg's reflects a separation of church and state. "We leave DOI alone," said one Bloomberg aide. Also in contrast to Giuliani, Bloomberg has selected as investigations chief someone he didn't already know. Rose Gill Hearn, a former federal prosecutor, is described by her former colleagues as a straight shooter with little regard for sacred cows.

If so, it bodes well. There are, after all, scores of sacred cows like Russell Harding—individuals tightly tethered to political influence, scattered throughout city government and playing by their own rules.

Related Stories by Tom Robbins:

"The Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee"

"More Lush Life of a Rudy Appointee"

"Party Harding"

"Harding's Hustle: Bonuses, Bargains, and Strip Clubs at the Housing Development Corporation"

"Low-Class Act: Russell Harding on Blacks, the Poor, and the Clintons"

"Bonus Baby: A Hefty Something Extra in Russell Harding's Last Paycheck"

"The Private Lives of Russell Harding"

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