June 29, 2007

Ombuds Recommended for Prince William County Schools

As part of a statewide review of Virgina schools, an independent consulting firm has advised Prince William County School officials to add an ombudsman to the superintendent's office to help respond to calls and questions. The report was prepared by MGT of America Inc. and included other cost saving recommendations. (Potomac News Online.)

Longterm Care Ombuds Distinguishes Itself From Yolo County Ombuds

In an open letter, the administrator of Ombudsman Services of Northern California, explained that her organization was not related to the Yolo County ombuds program or Harrison Jack, the county's recently indicted ombuds. Joan Parks sought to mitigate any confusion caused by the similar names and clarified difference between organizational and classical ombuds (without using the terms specifically). (Daily Democrat.)

(Related post Update: Yolo County Ombuds Remains in Detention.)

June 28, 2007

University of Toronto Names New Ombuds

The University of Toronto has appointed Joan Foley, an emeritus professor of psychology, as university ombudsperson. The position is part time and commences July 1. Foley has been chair of the Department of Psychology and of the Division of Life Sciences at UT's Scarborough campus, associate dean of Arts and Science, principal of the University of Toronto Scarborough, and vice-president and provost of the university. In addition, a residence hall at the Scarborough campus is named in her honor. (News@UofT.)

Update: Yolo County Ombuds Remains in Detention

Although bail had been denied for all of his other accused co-conspirators, Harrison Jack had planned to ask to be released on bail at a detention hearing on Thursday. However, the attorney for the [former] Yolo County ombuds, agreed to the government's detention order temporarily so the case could be consolidated with 10 other men accused of plotting to overthrow the Laotian government. All 11 suspects are scheduled to appear together before U.S. District Court Judge Frank Damrell in Sacramento July 12. (News10.net.)

I say [former] ombuds only because I still haven't seen anything from Yolo County officially severing ties with Jack.

(Related posts Yolo County Ombuds Arrested for Plotting Overthrow of Laotian Government; Yolo County Hires Ombuds.)

Update: Red Cross Head Responds to Criticism Over Appointment of Ombuds

In an interview with the Chronicle of Philanthropy, newly appointed Red Cross CEO Mark Everson addressed concerns over his pick for Red Cross ombudsman. (Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog, had questioned the choice of Everson's his former chief of staff at the IRS, Beverly Ortega Babers, to the job.)
Mr. Everson brushed off such concerns. “Beverly has a strong independent voice,” he says. “If she tells me there’s a problem, I will know there’s a problem. She will have the absolute license to see what’s going on.”

(Chronicle of Philanthropy.)

Let's hope this reassurance of independence is memorialized in a charter or terms of reference.

(Related post Concern Over Appointment of Red Cross Ombuds.)

June 26, 2007

USOA's 28th Annual Conference

The United States Ombudsman Association's 2007 conference for public sector ombudsmen will take place in Anchorage, September 24-28. The program includes a plenary session on apology and there will be workshops on ethics, technology, current legal issues, launching new ombudsman offices, and challenges to ombudsman impartiality. In addition, there will be a two-day New Ombudsman Orientation September 24-25, and an all-day pre-conference workshop on September 25. Register by August 24 for best rates. (USOA Conference Info.)

June 25, 2007

Labeling Feelings Improves Conflict Resolution

Stephanie West Allen, an expert on neuroscience and conflict resolution, recaps a recent flurry of articles about the research showing that labeling feelings can quiet the brain and increase impulse control. Dr. Allen observes that, "a quiet and controlled brain is often an asset in the resolution of conflict, whether that brain belongs to the neutral, advocate, or party." She therefore recommends making mental notes to develop this skill. (Brains on Purpose.)

Advice for Stopping a Nag

If your visitors complain about being nagged by supervisors or coworkers, Gretchen Rubin has some suggestions to consider:
  • Answer and acknowledge what was said;
  • Commit to a deadline;
  • Find a way remind yourself;
  • Ask for a reminder;
  • Explain why you’re not responding; and
  • Do what is being asked.
Sure, the term "nag" is loaded with pejorative connotations, but some of these ideas may be useful. (The Happiness Project.)

IIT Kanpur Apppoints Student Ombuds

In response to mounting student tensions, including two recent suicides, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur has appointed an ombuds to convey the problems of the students to administrators. IIT Kanpur is one of the leading universities in India and it is the first to create an ombuds for student concerns. Professor Onkar Dixit of the Civil Engineering department has been appointed as the first ombudsman. (IIT, Kanpur Office Order; Times of India.)

[Updated] In a follow-up article, Dixit outlined his plan:
I would like to work for those students who have recently joined the institute and are apprehensive of what the years ahead have in store for them. I will encourage them to approach me with both their personal and education-related issues. Ultimately, the aim will be to ensure that students remain unaffected by the stress and continue with their studies in peace.

(Times of India.)

June 22, 2007

St. Bonanventure Ombuds to Review Coach's Conviction

The baseball coach at St. Bonaventure recently pleaded guilty to a Federal charge of attempting to carry a loaded gun on an airplane. With the criminal matter now concluded, the university has announced plans to review the matter internally. According to the university president, the process will by "chaired by a legally trained ombudsman. He will lead an independent review of the facts in the context of university policies. The recommendations for sanctions will be in line with what the group determines to be the offense." (Olean Times Herald.)

By having the ombuds conduct a formal investigation and issue findings, St. Bonaventure's decision obligates the ombuds to operate well outside the IOA standards.

June 20, 2007

ICANN Ombuds Announces Results of Visitor Survey

Frank Fowlie, the Ombudsman for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, reports on a survey of visitors to his office. The results are overall positive, with three areas of concern:
  • The Survey return rate was limited;
  • Narrative responses tended to negative; and
  • The majority of responses were from people with issues outside the mandate of the Office.
Nonetheless, Fowlie concludes that his office is "likely serving, at a more than acceptable level and has once again proven itself to be potentially the single most completely assessed Ombuds Program in existence." (ICANN Ombudsman Blog.)

That's a bold proclamation. However, I think the honor may go to Northern Illinois University, where Tim Griffin has been compiling visitor data for a decade now.

June 19, 2007

Shakeup at Smithsonian Includes Consideration of Additional Ombuds

After the resignation of the museum's deputy secretary and chief operating officer, the Smithsonian's Board of Regents took steps to revamp leadership and management. Among other things, the regents have requested a museum-wide code of ethics and improved communications with Congress, the staff and other stakeholders. A "public ombudsman" is also under consideration, as well as complaint hotlines. It is not clear how this ombuds will function or relate to the existing ombuds at the Smithsonian. (Washington Post.)

(Related post Smithsonian Ombuds First to Hear of Misconduct by Managers.)

South Dakota School District Settles Bias Suit, Agrees to Ombuds

A settlement has resolved a class-action lawsuit alleging the Winner School District discriminated against American Indians by disciplining them more harshly than white students. Under the terms of the settlement, the district will hire a full-time ombudsman to serve as a liaison between Indian families and school officials. (Rapid City Journal.)

Update 9/21/07: Turns out, it's not an organizational ombuds. (Job posting.)

June 18, 2007

Federal District Court Respects Role of Marquette University Ombuds

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin has ruled against Daniel Cotrone, the former director of the counseling center at Marquette University, who had alleged age discrimination based on a hostile work environment. The case arose when three staff members separately told the university ombuds, Rita Burns, that Cotrone was a divisive micromanager who created a feeling of paranoia. The ombuds attempted to work out a resolution with Cotrone and his superior while protecting the confidentiality of the visitors. Informal efforts were unsuccessful and Cotrone was eventually terminated. The Court dismissed the case on summary judgment, finding that the ombuds' involvement did not create an unreasonable work environment. In particular, the Court stated that "by keeping the process confidential, [Marquette] did no more that follow the ombuds process's rules." In addition, Cotrone, "had no right to communicate with employees who used the ombuds process in the first place." (Cotrone v. Marquette Univ., (E.D. Wis. 2007) 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 41930.)

Tennessee to Hire Open Records Ombuds

Having secured money in the state's budget, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen is now looking to hire an ombuds to work with citizens seeking documents that are available under the Public Records Act. Although it is not clear whether the position will be classical or organizational in nature, the state comptroller's office is drafting a job description and determining which qualifications will be considered necessary. The job will pay up to $100,000. (AP.)

(Related posts Tennessee Law Blog Highlights Ombuds; Tennessee Open Meetings Dispute Leads to Calls for Ombuds.)

Immigration Ombuds Cites FBI Delays as Major Immigration Problem

In his annual report to Congress, the Ombudsman for Citizenship and Immigration Services, Prakash Khatri, called the FBI's unexplained delays in checking immigration applications "unacceptable from the standpoint of national security and immigration benefits processing." When political attention is focused on immigration issues and border security, the growing backlog highlights the administrative breakdown and has prompted a flood of federal lawsuits. Khatri said the delays they "may increase the risk to national security by prolonging the time a potential criminal or terrorist remains in the country." He concluded that the agency should end or curtail its use of name checks. (Full CIS Ombuds Report; Executive Summary; Washington Post.)

(Related post US Immigration Officials Rejects Ombuds' Reform Proposal.)

Eastern Michican University Ombuds and Others Criticized for Withholding Details of Murder Investigation

An investigation into the handling of a student death at Eastern Michigan University has found that several officials, including the university ombudsperson, concealed information from top administrators and students in violation of federal law and personal trust. After the death of a female undergraduate in December 2006, EMU initially maintained that there was "no reason to suspect foul play." In fact, the facts clearly indicated it was a homicide and another student was arrested two months later. Greg Peoples, the ombudsperson and dean of students was a spokesperson for the University as details of the investigation later emerged. In addition to briefing the press, it was Peoples who disclosed news of the arrest to the victim's parents.

In response to public outcry over the deliberate deception, the Board of Regents hired the Detroit law firm of Butzel Long to investigate the university's handling of the incident. The extensive report concludes that university administrators, including Peoples, took no steps to correct the widespread impression the student had died naturally or to issue warnings required by the Clery Act. Butzel Long made recommendations as to how the Clery Act should be implemented on the campus but refrained from laying blame on any individuals for any cover-up. (Buetzel Long Report, see pp. 231 and 280; Chronicle of Higher Ed; Ann Arbor News; Watching Politics Blog.)

(Related post After Student Death, Eastern Michigan Ombuds Acts as University Spokesperson.)

Profile of New Ombuds at University of South Florida

Lesley "Les" Miller Jr. returned to his alma mater, the University of South Florida, as director of community relations and student ombudsman in April. In one role, he'll be the face of the university, helping to grow its partnerships. In the other, he'll listen to student complaints about tough professors, unbearable dorm mates and the general tribulations of college life. With a light student complaint load, Miller has been researching other universities that have student ombudsmen to find out how their offices operate. (St. Petersburg Times.)

(Related post Former State Senator Named Ombuds at South Florida.)

Job Posting: Stanford School of Medicine

Stanford University is accepting applications for School of Medicine Ombudsperson. The ideal candidate will have conflict resolution experience commensurate with an advanced degree, mediation certification, ombuds training, and broad knowledge of the medical school environment and culture. Current salary range for the position is $79,250 to $126,370 per annum. No closing date indicated. (Stanford Jobs, Job ID 25739.)

June 16, 2007

Lawyers Advised Wall Street Journal Owners to Hire Internal Ombuds

Lawyers for the Bancroft family, which owns a majority stake in the Wall Street Journal, recommended a plan to preserve the paper's independence and integrity if the company is sold to Rupert Murdoch. The confidential legal memo from the prestigious firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, proposed that the Wall Street Journal create an internal ombudsman appointed by a "Special Committee" of the Board of Directors.
Editors or other employees could approach the ombudsman with concerns or issues relating to editorial and journalistic independence and integrity issues. The ombudsman would communicate such issues that he/she believes are appropriate to the Special Committee.

The LA Times concluded that the plan would have been unprecedented in American media. Although the proposal has since been rejected, it offers insights into not only the Bancrofts' deep mistrust of Murdoch, but the creativity of high powered outside counsel. (
LA Times.)

Do we have friends at Wachtell Lipton?

June 14, 2007

Panel Highlights Misunderstandings in Privacy Laws

An investigation into the Virginia Tech shooting found that confusion and uncertainty about privacy laws and regulations impede appropriate information sharing. The panel appointed by President Bush concluded that education officials, healthcare providers, law enforcement personnel, and others are not fully informed about when they can share critical information on persons who are likely to be a danger to self or others, and the resulting confusion may chill legitimate information sharing. In short, officials are often unaware that exceptions to privacy laws permit disclosures when an individual poses a safety threat. (HHS Report via Inside Higher Ed.)

Ombuds are uniquely positioned to hear from and about distressed individuals, and should therefore be especially knowledgeable about exceptions to privacy rules. Moreover, ombuds should reinforce that their confidentiality is similarly limited.

June 13, 2007

Privacy Expert Says Google Needs Ombuds

A well-known privacy expert, Lauren Weinstein, has urged Google to appoint an ombuds to help the company address growing privacy concerns. Weinstein's description could indicate an organizational type ombuds:
The ombudsman would be a non-lawyer who would be assigned full-time to act as an easily approachable and highly available front-line interface between the public and Google operational/R&D teams. This individual would be the primary initial contact for most queries from individuals and organizations who have specific problems related to Google content, privacy, or a range of other related policy matters. This technically knowledgeable individual would be well-versed regarding the relevant issues and ideally already possess a high degree of trust within the larger Internet community.

Such an ombudsman, by fostering open lines of communications, could immediately interact with members of the public and push relevant matters quickly up the chain of command inside Google for action as appropriate.

Despite widespread coverage, Google has not responded to the suggestion. (Lauren Weinstein's Blog; Sci-Tech Today.)

House Bill Would Create SEC Ombuds

A spending bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Monday would establish an ombudsman position at the Security and Exchanges Commission to help small businesses "address the unique challenges small public companies face in implementing the Sarbanes-Oxley Act." The bill — which contains funding for more than 20 agencies — heads to the House floor for a vote next week. (Federal Times; House Report 109-520; Status of Appropriations Legislation for Fiscal Year 2008.)

Public Input on Creating Public Records Ombuds in Washington State

Today, Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney will host a forum on open government along with the Washington State Attorney General and Auditor. The agenda includes the chance for the public to comment on the duties of a proposed public records ombudsman. (Tacoma News Tribune.)

June 12, 2007

Useless Habits of Outside Counsel

Ombuds frustrated by outside counsel may appreciate this post from an attorney's blog. Dan Hull, a litigator and lobbyist in San Diego, relates this supposedly ancient list of "The 7 Habits of Highly Useless Corporate Lawyers":
  1. Be risk-averse at all times. Clients have come to expect this from their lawyers. It's tradition. Honor it.
  2. Tell the client only what it can't do. Business clients are run by business people who take risks. They need to be managed, guided, stopped. Don't encourage them.
  3. Whatever you do, don't take a stand, and don't make a recommendation. (You don't want to be wrong, do you?)
  4. Treat the client as a potential adversary at all times. Keep a distance.
  5. Cover yourself. Write a lot to the client. Craft lots of confirming letters which use clauses like "it is our understanding", "our analysis is limited to..." and "we do not express an opinion as to whether..."
  6. Churn up extra fees with extra letters and memoranda and tasks. Milk the engagement. (If you are going to be a weenie anyway, you might as well be a sneaky weenie.)
  7. As out-house counsel, you are American royalty. Never forget that.
Sound familiar to anyone? (What About Clients?)

Grad Student's Perspective on Visiting Ombuds

A graduate/medical student at the University of Washington has written about his intention to visit the UW ombuds and promises to post details in the future. I'll be following his blog for his perspective on the process. (Hope for Pandora.)

Updated: The comments to the original post provide further details of the meeting with the UW ombuds.

June 11, 2007

Former State Senator Named Ombuds at South Florida

The University of South Florida has appointed Lesley "Les" Miller, former Florida state senator and minority leader, to director of community relations and student ombudsman. (Chronicle of Higher Education.)

What is Mediation?

Brendan Donaghy, a community mediator in Northern Ireland, offers an introspective take on what he does. His five broad functions will resonate with ombuds:
  1. Interrupting An Old Cycle of Interaction
  2. Growing Confidence / Respect
  3. Exchanging Stories
  4. Exploring Options / Outcomes
  5. Establishing A New Cycle of Interaction
Donaghy is not claiming that this list of functions is either exhaustive or exclusive, or even good practice or standards. It’s simply an attempt to reflect on the service he provides. (Mediate.com.)

University of Western Ontario Agrees to Changes Suggested by Ombuds

On April 1, UWO's student newspaper, published an April Fools edition that generated community outrage. The University Students' Council, which publishes the Gazette, adopted several changes, including a formal complaints policy that was developed with input from the university ombudsperson. (Canoe.ca.)

June 08, 2007

Stanford Paper Wants Ombuds to Monitor Student Activities Board

An editorial in the Stanford Review laments the demise of the Office of Student Activities, the department charged with regulating parties, student groups and their events. The Review suggests a number of changes, including having the University's ombuds become responsible for fielding appeals and complaints from students about the office. (Stanford Review.)

June 07, 2007

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente

The health care giant is seeking another ombuds/mediator for its Oakland facility. The position is responsible for manage patient disputes, so applicants should have a health care. No closing date or salary indicated. (Kaiser Careers, Job ID: OA.0700511.)

(Prior Kaiser job posts.)

Ghana Press Supports Reform of UN Ombuds

The Statesman, Ghana's oldest mainstream newspaper, provides a analysis and endorsement of the UN's plan to redesign its judicial process, including the structure of the ombuds office:

The Office of the Ombudsman should be strengthened and decentralized with a merger of the existing Offices of Ombudsmen in the Secretariat and funds and programmes. [¶] The Office should have professional mediators and should take on a stronger monitoring role regarding institutional management.
* * *
The Secretary-General should appoint the United Nations Ombudsman; the Ombudsman for funds and programmes will be appointed by the executive heads of those bodies. [¶] A selection committee, composed of a staff representative, a management representative and two distinguished outside Ombudsmen, one appointed by the staff and one by management, and chaired by a third distinguished Ombudsman appointed jointly by the Secretary-General and the executive heads of the funds and programmes, should submit a list of not fewer than three names for each position of Ombudsman, taking into consideration the nature and the characteristics of these institutions.

The Office of the Ombudsman should be strengthened by combining the functions of formal mediation with proactive monitoring of maladministration. [¶] A Mediation Division should be established within the Office of the Ombudsman.


June 06, 2007

Avoiding Costly Litigation

Justin Patten is an English mediator and attorney, who writes an excellent blog about law and technology. Today, he offers five ways for an organization to avoid litigation -- ways that are entirely consistent with the advice ombuds often provide:
  1. Think carefully about the type of people that you do business with
  2. Be the kind of organization which does not create disputes
  3. Seek to communicate effectively and consistently
  4. Have management trained to face up to the dispute
  5. Have plain English and not too onerous legal terms
(Human Law Mediation.)

Training Myths Exposed

Although ombuds are often called upon to provide training (especially in the area of conflict management), we do not necessarily have the skills to be effective. It is easy, therefore, to repeat some common mistakes. Fortunately, a recent article from the Society of Human Resource management debunks five common training truisms:
  • Learning is better with visuals than without visuals
  • It’s best to explain a visual with audio narration and text
  • Visuals and stories added for interest improve learning
  • It’s better to compress learning in one full day rather than schedule shorter sessions over several days
  • Overall, learning is better in a face-to-face classroom than in e-learning
(SHRM Online.)

June 04, 2007

Interview with First Ombuds at UMass

In 1976, the University of Massachusetts interviewed alumni, former faculty and administrators, and their spouses. Transcripts of some are now available on line, including Ellsworth Barnard, who describes his work as University Ombudsman, ca. 1969-70. (UMass Oral Histories.)

Yolo County Ombuds Arrested for Plotting Overthrow of Laotian Government

The ombudsman for Yolo County has been charged, along with eight others, with plotting a violent overthrow of Laos' communist government. Harrison Jack, who has been Yolo's ombuds since March of this year, was accused of acting as an arms broker and organizer. Prosecutors said that the conspirators hoped to recruit a mercenary force and buy enough weapons to equip a small army. (Mercury News; Los Angeles Times.)

A Yolo County spokesperson said officials were shocked to hear that their new ombuds had been indicted. "We're completely dumbfounded," spokesperson Beth Gabor said. "We did a background check, but obviously it wouldn't show an ongoing investigation."

(Related post Yolo County Hires Ombuds.)