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Vermont Moves to Strengthen Whistleblower Protections

In the aftermath of last week's Supreme Court decision unleashing an unlimited flow of cash and influence on our political system, the concerns of Vermont State Auditor Doug Hoffer that "whistleblowers" be insulated against reprisals, gain particular prescience.

Hoffer joins Jed Guertin and others in asking lawmakers to strengthen the protections for individuals who bring to light wrongdoing in their government workplace.

Guertin was a computer systems specialist at what was then (1994) the Department of Travel and Tourism. Guertin's supervisor had sought to steer a valuable software contract toward a firm that had no business winning the bid...

Unable to solve the problem internally, Guertin blew the whistle publicly. And when his supervisor learned of his breach, Guertin quickly found himself frozen out at the government agency he'd spent 12 years climbing the ladder...(He) went on to win a small cash settlement for his treatment at the hands of his superiors - along with an official letter praising his accomplishments on behalf of the department

But the somewhat positive outcome for Guertin came at great personal cost, which would discourage most ordinary citizens from going down the same road to justice.

Recognizing the benefit to the state as a whole and to taxpayers in particular when workers have no fear of calling attention to corruption in governmental departments, Hoffer believes existing protections are insufficient and require reinforcement.  

"You don't want people to think, 'Oh, I have to hire a lawyer, and go through the process before I can just find some safe place and tell someone what I know,'" Hoffer says. "And that's what I want to do, is create a safe place."

Legislation that would protect whistleblower's anonymity is currently making its way from the Vermont House to the Senate. The Vermont ACLU has questions about possible impacts of that legislation on open government.  

It's not a simple issue, on either side of the fence, but now is the time to endeavor to get it right.  

On Capitol Hill, the floodgates of corruption are about to be opened and it won't take long for that trickle-down to reach Vermont.

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