December 31, 2006

New Handbook of ADR in India Touts Role of Ombuds

The new publication by the Institute of Company Secretaries of India, Handbook on Arbitration and Alternative Dispute Resolution, observes that "settlement of disputes outside the courts is not new." Resolutions have been facilitated by the village panchayat and the ombudsman. "Long before the King came to adjudicate on disputes between persons, such disputes were quite peacefully decided by the intervention of the Kulas (family or clan assemblies), Srenis (guilds of men following the same occupation), Perishads (assemblies of learned men who knew law) and such other autonomous bodies." Statutory backing for ADR comes from the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, a law that has predecessors in the Indian Arbitration Act of 1899 and later in the 1940 Act. (The Hindu Business Line.)
Advice on Acquiring Workplace Culture

Anyone purporting to manage workplace conflict should take a careful look at the unique context in which that conflict exists. Without understanding this culture it is difficult to help the workplace make enduring changes to the way it manages conflict. For example:
Much can be discovered about a workplace culture by looking at its conflict management and dispute resolution processes. Workplaces with processes that rely primarily upon rights-based or power-based options for managing conflict are likely to be more adversarial and/or individualistic in nature. Those with interest-based processes are likely more purposeful, cooperative and forward-looking.

Author Blaine Donais has developed a a convenient check-list and advice that ombuds will find useful in determining prevailing sources of workplace culture. (Article, website.)
Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente Healthcare Ombuds/Mediators

Kaiser Permanente continues its search for organizational ombuds to work on patient issues. (Prior posting.) Currently, they have positions in San Rafael and Fontana, California. (Kaiser Permanente Jobs.)

December 30, 2006

Fish & Wildlife Service Plans Ombuds for Bison Program

Federal wildlife managers have reversed their decision to cut off tribal involvement in management of the National Bison Range. The updated operation plan will also include an ombudsman to work assist in resolving conflicts at the range. (Caspar Star Tribune.)

December 28, 2006

ALERT: Texas Legislature Introduces Ombuds Shield Law

On December 27, 2006, Texas State Senator Jeff Wentworth introduced a bill, "relating to the confidentiality of certain communications involving an ombudsman program established by an employer as an alternative dispute resolution service." (Tex. Legis. Online History.) The groundbreaking legislation would provide a privilege only for communications between employees and private sector organizational ombuds. (Text of SB 160.) If passed, the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code would be amended September 1, 2007. Draw your own conclusions about what impact this law could have on public sector ombuds or ombuds that serve students, customers and other non-employees.
CCNY Ombuds Starts Writing Regular Advice Column

Student Ombudsperson for City College of New York, Michael Witter, responds to anonymous letters on the pages of the campus newspaper. Recent articles covered difficulties in community building and frustrations with academic policies. (The Campus.)
University of Toronto Names Interim Ombuds

On November 2, classical studies professor Ian McDonald was appointed interim ombudsperson for the University of Toronto. McDonald, who has taught at U of T Scarborough since 1968, will continue in his new role until a new ombudsperson is appointed and has taken office. He was also associate dean and director of governance through 2004. In that role, he was responsible for his division’s academic petition and appeals processes, as well as its discipline procedures, a position that has prepared him well for the ombudsperson’s office. McDonald succeeds Mary Ward, who has recently completed her second term, having served for eight years. (News@UofT.)
ICANN Ombuds Releases Second Annual Report

The Ombudsman for the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers, Frank Fowlie, has posted his Second Annual Report. The report synopsizes the activities of the Office of the Ombudsman during the 2005–06 Fiscal Year. The report will be posted and translated into French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Arabic in coming days. (ICANN Announcement.)
National Credit Union Administration Appoints New Ombuds

The federal agency selected Mike J. McNeill as its ombudsman, effective January 1, 2007. McNeill began his career with NCUA in 1991 as a credit union examiner and most recently was Deputy Financial Officer/NCUA and Director of the Division of Financial Control. He is a Certified Public Accountant and received NCUA’s Supervisor of the Year Award for 2004. The NCUA ombuds office confidential, independent and informal. (NCUA Press Release.)

December 23, 2006

Ombuds Announced for Northwest Illinois Airport Development

While public hearings continued for a proposed south suburban airport in unincorporated Will County,the State's Attorney encouraged local residents to seek assistance from a newly-appointed ombudsman. Raymond Feeley, who has been practicing law for more than 33 years, will serve as an independent intermediary whose role will be to facilitate communication between local property owners and the Illinois Department of Transportation. The State's Attorneys said that Feeley, "is a respected local attorney who has the legal knowledge and the calm demeanor necessary to present accurate and unbiased information between concerned property owners and the state." (NWI Times.)

December 22, 2006

UC Irvine Introduces New Medical Center Ombuds

In response to a series of scandals involving its medical programs, the University of California at Irvine announced the creation of two new positions: a vice chancellor for health affairs and an ombuds to handle complaints and concerns from UCI medical personnel. The ombudsman position has been filled by attorney Gecole Harley of Georgia, who reports directly to the chancellor. UCI officials hope the vice chancellor and ombuds will be more successful at preventing trouble than a similar reform effort a few years ago that did not include an ombuds. (LA Times.)

December 21, 2006

Historian: Homeland Security Ombuds Unable to Stem Erosion of Civil Liberties

An editorial by John Prados charges that the Homeland Security Ombudsman, created by the Intelligence Reorganization Act, is inactive, ineffective and essentially moribund. Prados, who is a senior fellow of the National Security Archive and author of a book about administration whistle-blowers, concludes that, "Nothing seems to prevent the Bush administration from demanding more and more of our personal information." (; see also Department of Homeland Security Reorgnaization Plan.)
Dept of Education Responds to Upward Feedback

The US Department of Education is planning to propose limits early next year on how much universities can charge former students in collection fees if they default on government loans. The move was prompted by complaints to the ombudsman's office about schools charging high collection fees. Complaints were alse received by the Secretary of Education and Congress. (Boston Globe.)
Job Posting: University of California at Berkeley

UC Berkeley is seeking an associate ombuds for staff. The position reports to Margo Wesley, a former president of UCOA and current IOA board member, and pays $63,600 - $90,100. For younger ombuds, this is an enviable opportunity. (UCBerkely Jobs, requisition no. 5738.)

December 19, 2006

Johns Hopkins Notes Passing of its First Ombuds

Professor Emeritus Sigmund Suskind, a microbiologist who served as dean of the School of Arts and Sciences from 1978 to 1983, died Dec. 5 at the age of 80 from cancer complications. Dr. Suskind was also the university's first ombudsman, appointed to that post in 1988. (JHU Gazette.)

December 18, 2006

Dealing With Obnoxious Coworkers

Real Simple magazine has tips on handling these familiar characters:
  • The Clueless Overling
  • The Ball-Dropper
  • The Belittling Boss
  • The Spotlight-Stealer
  • The Best-Friend Wannabe
  • The Rumormonger
  • The Crusading Newbie
  • The Approval Pest
  • The Chronic Complainer
Sample advice: For the Belittling Boss, “Ask, in private, where the doubt is coming from,” and explain that the constant unconstructive criticism is having a deleterious effect on your output. (Real Simple.)
SBA Ombuds Reports to Congress on Federal Agencies

The Office of the National Ombudsman at the U.S. Small Business Administration released its annual report to the 109th Congress, rating the responsiveness of federal agencies to the regulatory enforcement issues faced by small businesses during fiscal year 2005. The report summarizes the treatment of small businesses in the complex and confusing federal regulatory process. In the future, the National Ombudsman intends to closely evaluate the responsiveness of agencies to small businesses with respect to compliance assistance in the rulemaking process. (PR Newswire.)

December 16, 2006

Rochester, NY, School District to Implement Ombuds

In addition to reinstating nine current or former African-American employees who filed complaints of discrimination, the Rochester City School District will also establish an ombudsman to review employment issues, and improve communication and procedures between the Human Resources department and current and future employees. (Rochester Democract.)
Richmond, BC, Fire Department Initiating Ombuds Service

In response to claims of harassment and discrimination against the City of Richmond Fire-Rescue Department, including a recent lawsuit by a female employee, the city will implement an ombudsman program next month. (Richmond Review.)

December 15, 2006

Tennessee Open Meetings Dispute Leads to Calls for Ombuds

In response to a dispute between the State Ethics Commission and the Tennessee Bar Association over open government laws, the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government has called for creation of an ombudsman. Frank Gibson, executive director of TCOG, said the creation of an independent authority on open government matters could help resolve the kinds of disputes that arose Tuesday. "It certainly speaks for the need to have an independent office, independent of the Legislature, the executive branch, the judiciary, the attorney general _ and independent of any group that might become subject to complaints," Gibson said. (Associated Press.)

December 12, 2006

Advice for Patients

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations offers the following steps for patients who feel mistreated:
  1. Address the staffer directly;
  2. Complain to the nursing supervisor;
  3. Ask your primary care doctor to intercede;
  4. Enlist a friend or relative to advocate;
  5. Enlist the help of a supportive staffer;
  6. Make your complaint known to the hospital's ombudsman; and
  7. If all else fails, register the complaint with JCAHO. (Washington Post.)

December 11, 2006

Gallaudet to Appoint Ombuds

Interim president of Gallaudet University, Robert R. Davila, proposed a number of changes that he said would allow students and faculty and staff members to voice concerns and seek campuswide solutions, including establishing a university ombudsman. “We need to make people feel that when they speak on campus, they will be heard,” he said. (Bloomberg.)

December 10, 2006

USOC Ombuds: Anti-Doping System Snares Innocent Athletes

In today's LA Times, John Ruger, athlete ombudsman for the US Olympic Organizing Committee, is quoted as saying that the World Anti-Doping Agency sweeps up "two, three, five people every year who are not intentionally cheating." Ruger added: "If the anti-doping program is to succeed worldwide, athletes have to believe it's a fair process." (LA Times.)

December 08, 2006

Job Posting: University of California Santa Barbara

UCSB is searching for a new University Ombudsperson following the departure of Judy Guillermo-Newton, who was wooed away by a local community bank. (UCSB HR posting.) Newton had overseen the reestablishment of the UCSB Ombuds Office less than two years ago. The biggest question is: Who can afford to move to Santa Barbara for an annual salary of $70,584 - $93,700?

December 07, 2006

UN Development Program Ombuds Report Warns of Retaliation Against Visitors

In response to the Secretariat's assertion that the UNDP had a "very good system in place" for whistleblowing, the Inner City Press revealed contrary findings by the ombudsperson. In addition to retaliation against visitors, the ombudsperson also found that UNDP staff have been warned about the consequences of saying certain things to the Ombudsperson -- a term that has been dubbed "pretaliation." (Inner City Press.) The UNDP Ombudsperson's report is not available online.

December 05, 2006

Montreal Ombudsman Pleads for Additional Funds

The municpal ombudsman for Montreal has seen a 13-fold increase in complaints since its founding in 2003. In 2006, Johanne Savard's office handled more than 1,300 matters, up from 541 new complaints in 2005 and 211 in 2004. Over that time, the office staff has increased from three to seven. Savard attributed the increase in caseload to greater public awareness of her role as the public's last recourse, rather than to a rise in problems. In spite of Savard's request, the ombudsman's budget for 2007 will likely remain unchanged at $700,000, due to Montreal's continuing budget shortfall. (Montreal Gazette; Ombudsman de Montréal.)
Senate to Propose Ombuds for Red Cross

Concurrent senate and house bills filed yesterday marked the first move to amend the organization’s charter in 60 years. The Red Cross strongly supports the legislation which mandates the appointment of an independent ombudsman charged with reporting annually to Congress, among other steps. Among other duties, the ombudsman would help whistleblowers. (New York Times.)

December 04, 2006

New Federal Rules Prompt Assessment of Record Retention Policies

As of December 1, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure streamline the disclosure of electronic records between litigants. (Link, see especially Rules 16, 26, 33, 34, and 37.) Previously, the exchange of electronic records was haphazard and sanctions for failing to produce were more difficult to obtain. Experts thus urge institutions to have (and follow) explicit policies regarding destruction of electronic records. (Chronicle of Higher Ed.) Ombuds would be well advised to make sure they follow suit.
Is This the First-Ever Ombuds Blog?

Diane Levin, who blogs the Online Guide to Mediation thinks so. Check for yourself at the Worldwide Directory of ADR Blogs.

December 01, 2006

Pomona Students Press Demand for Staff Ombuds

In a public meeting with the president of Pomona College, student members of the Advisory Committee on Diversity reiterated their request for an ombudsperson to address staff concerns about the workplace. (The Student Life.) The college has pledged to reach a decision on the issue by “the end of the academic year.”

November 30, 2006

Proposal to Revise IOA Membership Categories Loses

In response to concerns over IOA membership categories, the board held a special meeting on November 27, 2006 to consider changing the by-laws. Despite seeming widespread interest in the issue, less than 25% of the members exercised their vote. The proposal thus failed to reach a quorom and the membership categories will not change. This would seem to be the most disappointing outcome of a critical issue.
India Moves Forward with Health Ombuds

India's health minister announced the creation of a "Health Ombudsman" to monitor discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS. (MedIndia.) Hopefully, the office will be modeled on the UN or WHO ombuds offices.

November 29, 2006

Charlotte Schools Plan for Ombuds

The new superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina plans sweeping reforms, including the creation of an ombuds office to resolve complaints. (Charlotte Observer.) No indication of whether it will be an organizational or classical ombuds.

November 27, 2006

Advice for Visitors with Job Stress

The people more likely to experience desk rage are those with the least power according to an article on MSNBC. One expert offers the following (very familiar) advice:
Tough as it may be, the best approach generally is to try to have a reasonable conversation with your boss about your concerns and to come prepared with some solutions.... However, some bosses simply may not be reasoned with ... sometimes it can be "career suicide" to go up against certain bosses. Tyrants and micromanagers are the worst offenders. In those situations, carefully choose your words.

Rutgers Ombuds Office Profiled

Sybil James, the first ombudsperson for Rutgers University, explains how the office serves the student population (Daily Targum, subscription required). The Rutgers Office of Ombudsperson for Students was established just one year ago.

November 25, 2006

Siemens Hires External Ombuds

In response to a growing fraud investigation and criminal indictments of several employees, the German conglomerate announced the appointment of an external ombudsman to provide a "protected" communication channel for employees. According to Siemens, "Employees can contact this neutral individual on a confidential and anonymous basis if they have observed incorrect business practices in Germany." An attorney, Hans-Otto Jordan of the Nuremburg law firm Dr. Beckstein & Partners, will the the ombudsman.

November 21, 2006

U Penn Ombuds Issues 3-Year Report

Outgoing University of Pennsylvania Ombudsman, David Pope, reported that the two-person office had seen 644 visitors during his three-year tenure. In keeping with U Penn protocol, Pope will be replaced by another tenured faculty member, John C. Keene. Dr. Gulbun O’Connor will continue as the Assistant Ombudsman.

November 20, 2006

Advice for Employees With Paycheck Envy

Forbes Magazine says the best approach is to "have a thoughtful, prepared discussion" your boss (link). Too bad they don't recommend seeing an ombuds as a first step.
Court Allows Ombuds' Lawsuit Against Little Rock Superintendent

On November 16, the federal trial court ruled that James Washington, the former ombuds for Little Rock School District, may proceed with his discrimination suit against the district superintendent. Washington has alleged that he was demoted to classroom teacher based upon his race and in retaliation for his efforts as an ombuds. The citation is Washington v. Brooks, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 83698 (E.D. Ark. Nov. 16, 2006) [no link available]. [Ed. note: Washington was appointed to ensure fairness in student discipline cases and was a presenter at the 2001 USOA conference.]
Student's Lawsuit Against Cornell and Its University Ombuds Lives On

A former Cornell veterinary student, Patricia Curto, sued the school alleging she was wrongfully dismissed in 1998. Several administrators, including assistant university ombudsperson Danilee Popensiek, are named as individual defendants. On Curto's appeal of dismissal, the Federal Appellate Court in New York returned the case to the trial court for further hearing. The student is a tenacious litigant: her suit has been appealed several times, and she is pursuing a related action in NY state court. Popensiek is still a member of the Cornell Office of the University Ombudsman, and is being represented in the action by Cornell's General Counsel. [Ed. note: None of the Cornell ombuds are members of IOA.]

November 18, 2006

Pomona College Committees Endorse Ombuds Position

After meeting with almost half of the housekeeping staff, students on the Workers Support Committee recommended that the college hire an ombuds. This echoed an earlier report from the President’s Advisory Committee on Diversity (link).

November 17, 2006

End of Semester Advice for Students

Northern Illinois University Ombuds, April Morgan, offers the following timely tips for students (link):
  • Simplify your life (adjust exam schedules if necessary, but don't skip classes and miss critical announcements late in the term);
  • Utilize campus resources (consider a tutor)
  • Consult your academic adviser;
  • Chill and consider counseling to managing your stress;
  • Evaluate instructors; and
  • Save everything and secure it before you leave campus.

November 14, 2006

Advice for Visitors Having a Personal Crisis

Real Simple magazine has three tips for people going through a crisis:
  • Leave a message on your phone;
  • Designate a point person to disseminate information; and
  • Send out an e-mail to friends.

Advice for Visitors Facing a Performance Review

Personal-finance blog Binary Dollar offers some good tips on impressing bosses when its time for a review:

Use numbers. Tell them you fixed 30 defects. Say that you saved the company approximately $30,000 dollars. Using numbers will give them the impression that you pay attention to detail. Plus, it will make it easier for your manager to double-check your facts. Managers like it when you make things easier for them.

November 10, 2006

Job Posting: United Nations

The UN Development Program ombuds office is seeking a case manager for a one-year contract. Bilingual required, no salary info.

November 09, 2006

Job Posting: Kaiser Permanente, Santa Rosa

KP is seeking a healthcare ombuds/mediator, preferrably with a healthcare background to manage patient disputes. (KP has an extensive network of HCOM's throughout the western US. This ad runs frequently.) No indication of salary.
Job Posting: University of Nevada, Reno

UNR is seeking a part time ombudsperson. No indication of salary.
Sloan Management Review: Hire Ombuds to to Resolve Board Disputes

In the Fall Issue of MIT's Sloan Management Review, Ralph Hasson suggests that companies create a “board ombudsman” to manage boardroom dipsutes through confidential, informal, independent assistance, and shuttle diplomacy. Hasson (a fellow of the Center for Public Policy Dispute Resolution) argues that an ombuds would be able to “identify troubling patterns or trends developing within the board, or between the board and management, and to advise the full board of the need for changes in its policies and procedures.” Most compellingly, Hasson argues that the board ombudsman should be an external resource and not the in-house ombudsman.
Job Posting: Cal State Long Beach

CSULB is searching for a new director of the Office of Ombuds after the departure of Elizabeth Novack. Here's the posting. N
o information available on salary.
Compassionate Checklist

In the November issue of the American Bar Association Journal (subscription only), there is a short article by Steven Keeva, excerpting his book, Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life. Keeva presents a list of questions for attorneys that will resonate with ombuds:
At the Initial Meeting
  • Why has the client come? [...]
  • What does he expect of me?
  • What role does he want me to take? [...]
  • Am I listening as if he is the only other person on earth at the moment?
  • Have I turned off the phone or made arrangements for someone else to answer? [...]
  • Are my words consistent with my values?
  • Have I made clear what I see as both his and my own role(s) in this relationship?
  • Have I made clear where my loyalties lie -- to him, yes, but perhaps also to minimizing conflict, to the other side or to the community?
  • Have I been clear about the range of options, both legal and nonlegal [ed.: or formal and informal], that may be available? [...]

After the Initial Interview
  • Have I been clear so far about what I see as the merits and deficiencies in the case the client thinks he has?
  • Does the client seem open to striving for a win/win solution?
  • What might such a solution look like in this case? (Even better, ask the client this?)
  • Is he willing to take any responsibility for the problem? If he is willing to forgo the role of the victim, what opportunities does that open up?
  • Can he admit that there were things he coud have done that might have prevented the current problem? If so, can he take an active role in resolving it?
  • Does the client need permission to let go of his anger, and would he accept that permission from me?
  • How attached is the client to winning? Would anything short of it be interpreted as success? [...]
  • Is the client deluding himself about any aspect of this case?
  • What might be the best way to start a dialogue?
  • What ways of looking at this case might locate deeper meanings and broader implications? For example, are there family implications that may at first not be apparent? Community Issues? Spiritual issues? How might these implications matter?
  • Have I made it clear enough that I consider this relationship: Important to me? Worthy of my time? [...] A collaboration in which we each have much to contribute?