July 31, 2007

Tenn. Gov. Opposes Plan to Fragment Responsibilities of New Open Records Ombuds

A dispute has erupted between Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and State Comptroller John Morgan over the newly created open records ombudsman. Morgan told a panel overseeing the plan that the best plan would be to hire one non-attorney and to divide more complex records questions to his existing legal staff. Morgan unabashedly admitted that he sees the role as not limited to one position.

If somebody looks for the ombudsman, what they'll see is the Office of the Comptroller ... fulfilling that role as a facilitator of access to records. What we don't want to do it get this so wrapped up in the identity of one person that when that person goes on vacation that there's nobody to call," Morgan said.

The Governor, who first proposed creating the ombudsman, said he first heard of the Comptroller's proposal was when asked about it by The Associated Press and responded that he would encourage a different approach. "I think it requires the focus of a relatively senior person and would certainly urge that on him," he said. "My gut feeling is a single senior person is a better direction."

Morgan has said that he plans to advertise within two months for a new staffer who would help field inquires about access to public records. (Associated Press via WKRN Nashville.)

Sounds like Tennessee need an ombuds for its executive branch. But seriously, it sounds like Morgan hasn't taken the time to see how other ombuds offices work. If he did, it would be obvious that there is no benefit to dispersing the responsibilities among other staffers. Morgan's proposal would weaken the ombuds' role because the public would rightly perceive that staffers have an inherent conflict due to their dual roles.

Nike Settles Discrimination Lawsuit, Agrees to Ombuds

Nike Inc. agreed to settle a class-action racial discrimination class action filed by 400 black employees from the Chicago Niketown store. The lawsuit alleged that store managers used racial slurs and discriminated against black. In reaching a $7.6 million settlement, Nike also agreed to other changes in its business practices, including the appointment of an ombudsman for the store. (Chicago Tribune.)

Given the size and scope of Nike's international activities, this is a very limited program. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether Nike will create an organizational or classical ombuds or an ombuds in name only. The upside is that this could be an important inroad for the profession.

July 27, 2007

Ombuds Ordered for Washington School District

In the wake of scandals involving male teachers and female students in the Hoquiam (Washington) School District, the School Board has directed the superintendent to create an ombuds program for citizens, district employees and others to raise concerns about teachers, staff or administrators. School Board member John Estes called the district “complacent,” noting, “We let our trust guard down. … Now, we want to get the trust of our community back.”(The Daily World.)

UC Irvine Appoints Ombuds Office Director

The University of California, Irvine has announced the appointment of Michael Chennault as University Ombuds and Director of the Office of the Ombudsman. Chennault has been with the UCI ombuds office since 2001 and, most recently, has been serving as the interim director and coordinating the campus mediation program. Chennault will oversee an office of seven, including three associate ombuds. (Thanks, Gecole.)

July 26, 2007

Cal Caucus Annual Conference in Pacific Grove

The California Caucus of College and University Ombuds has announced the details of its 34th Annual Conference at the Asilomar Conference Center on the Monterey Penninsula, November 11-14. The theme of the conference is "Ombudsing in an Age of Anxiety: Connecting Face to Face." In addition to the popular social events, the program will include sessions on:
  • Bullying in the Workplace
  • What Would You Do?
  • How I Made a Difference in an Anxious Case
  • What Causes Anxiety?
  • Communication in an Ombuds World
  • Group Facilitation
  • Intervening with Suicidal Ideation
  • Electronic Media & the Role of the Ombuds
The cost for the event, including three nights lodging, is just $450 (double occupancy) if you register by August 31. Contact Lewis Redding, the JPL Ombuds, for more details (lewis[dot]a[dot]redding[at-sign]jpl[dot]nasa[dot]gov).

Don't let the name put you off. The conference is well attended by people who are from outside California, who do not work in higher education, and who are not ombuds.

NASDAQ and Banking Lobby Endorse Ombuds for Accounting Oversight

On the fifth anniversary of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Securities and Exchange Commission has adopted auditing rules to reduce the burdensome internal-controls provisions of the law. However, the country's largest electronic equity securities market and a banking lobby want further changes, including an ombuds for the organization that regulates auditors of publicly traded companies -- the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board. In an open letter, the NASDAQ urged the SEC to "Establish an 'Ombudsman' office in PCAOB to serve as an advocate for issuers who feel their internal controls are being over-audited." Similarly, the interest group, America's Community Bankers, urged the creation of an PCOAB ombuds similar to the FDIC ombuds (and without the advocacy characteristic). The SEC is currently reviewing these recommendations. (NASDAQ Press Release; America's Community Bankers Letter; CFO Magazine.)

It thus remains to be seen whether the SEC will adopt an organizational or classical ombuds model. Although federal ombuds are more commonly classical, effective organizational ombuds can be found in some regulatory agencies (e.g., FDIC, FDA and Office of Thrift Supervision).

(Related posts Banking Expert Recommends Ombuds for Accounting and Securities Industries; House Bill Proposes Ombuds for Accounting Oversight.)

July 25, 2007

Senate Bill Would Create DOD Ombuds Office

A bill currently being debated on the Senate floor would create a Department of Defense-wide Ombudsman Office within the Office of the Secretary of Defense. The Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act (S.1606) was attached to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act and responds to shortcomings identified recently in the treatment of wounded service members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other locations. If implemented, the DOD Ombudsman Office would provide guidance to and oversight of ombudsman offices in all military departments. (S. 1283 History and Text; Duluth (GA) Weekly.)

Provost Recommends Ombuds for Duke

Duke University Provost Peter Lange has recommended the university hire an ombudsperson for students to raise discrimination issues. Lange made the recommendation to President Richard Brodhead as a member of a Steering Committee charged with assessing Duke's culture. There is no indication, however, of a timetable for implementing the suggestion. (Duke Chronicle; Report of the Campus Culture Initiative Steering Committee.)

July 20, 2007

Focus on Values to Reduce Stress of Conflict

In her blog about neuroscience and ADR, Stephanie West Allen, writes about research finding that individuals displayed lower stress after affirming personal values prior to a stressful situation. Allen notes that, "Although doing a values exercise is probably not going to be appropriate in many conflict resolution settings, getting disputants to recall important values is often done either deliberately or instinctively by those skilled at conflict resolution." (Brains on Purpose.)

I know of one transformative mediator and business consultant, who might embrace this approach. Sean Mason has his clients undertake a "Core Values Exercise" as part of the dispute resolution process and is writing a book about the methodology. Even if such a direct approach might not work for every onbuds, it may be valuable to include a discussion of values with new visitors.

July 18, 2007

Advanced Mediation Training in San Antonio

The America Bar Association's Section of Dispute Resolution has announced its 6th Annual Advanced Mediation and Advocacy Skills Training for October 11-12 in San Antonio. The program offers participants multiple opportunities for interactive sessions with some of the leading mediators and mediation advocates in the United States, including small group workshops and discussions. In addition Professor Andrea Schneider will share mediation tips and strategies from the Section's new publication, The Negotiator's Fieldbook. Register by October 1 for best rates. (Registration Brochure.)

July 17, 2007

Cal State San Bernardino Appoints Ombuds

After a six-month search, the California State University at San Bernardino has appointed Tera Bisbee as its new ombuds. Bisbee earned a bachelor's in psychology from Sonoma State University, a master's degree in education from UC Santa Barbara and another master's degree in counseling psychology from Argosy University. Previously, she was the director of human resources at the California Maritime Academy in Vallejo. (CSUSB News; Press Enterprise.)

Update: Ombuds Avoids Shake Up at Eastern Michigan

The Regents of Eastern Michigan University fired University President Jim Fallon, and accepted the "separations" of the school's Public Safety Chief Cindy Hall and VP of Student Affairs James Vick months after school officials were accused of covering up the rape and slaying of an undergraduate. In addition, the Regents put a letter of discipline in the file of University Counsel Kenneth McKanders. Although Ombudsperson and Dean of Students Gregory Peoples was intimately involved in the matter, he remains with the University. (Detroit Free Press.)

(Prior posts After Student Death, EMU Ombuds Acts as University Spokesperson; EMU Ombuds and Others Criticized for Withholding Details of Murder Investigation.)

July 16, 2007

Santa Monica College to Host Southern California Ombuds

Tina Feiger and Lucy Kluckhohn Jones, the Student Ombuds at Santa Monica College will co-organize the next meeting of the Southern California Ombuds Group. The caucus will take place Friday, October 19, from 8:30 am to 2:30 pm at a location to be determined. Other details are forthcoming. (So Cal Ombuds Blog.)

July 14, 2007

Update: Yolo Ombuds Released on Bond

Harrison Jack, accused of conspiring to overthrow the government of Laos, was released on $1 million bond Friday. His status as Yolo County's first ombudsman remains unknown. (Daily Democrat.)

(Prior post Yolo County Ombuds Arrested for Plotting Overthrow of Laotian Government.)

July 10, 2007

Job Posting: University of North Texas

The University of North Texas in Denton is accepting applications for a faculty and staff ombuds. This will fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Gene Wright, who founded the UNT Ombuds Office in 2005. The ideal candidate will have an advanced degree, faculty experience, and dispute resolution certification. No salary or closing date, so submit asap. (Chronicle Careers; UNT Faculty Senate Minutes.)

Note: UNT strongly endorsed the recent effort to pass the Texas shield legislation.

Website Photo Mistakes to Avoid

As ombuds learn to raise their profile with stakeholders, they are building and updating their websites -- often by themselves. To humanize their services, many ombuds include headshots. Mediator Tech has advice on the top ten mistakes, such as:
  • Including your child or dog;
  • Using a Sears background;
  • Wearing big jewelry;
  • Skipping the hair and makeup person;
  • Hiring a friend;
  • Not getting black and white shots too.
(Mediator Tech.)

Advice for Visitors Dealing with Someone Really, Really Difficult

Writing for Mediate.com, social worker and child-behavior expert Gary Direnfeld explains why it is so difficult to get along with those few people who have a personality disorder. Unfortunately, individuals with a personality disorder are often resistant to treatment because they are unable to realistically appraise their own behavior. Moreover, those with a personality disorder can project blame onto others. Therefore, treatment for the family and friends of the person with the disorder becomes critical. Family and friends need to understand the the disorder and how to create self-protective coping strategies. (Mediate.com.)

This advice surely resonates with ombuds discussing options for visitors struggling with a co-worker who has a personality disorder. Sadly, when these situations occur in the workplace, co-workers often must choose between coping and leaving.

Ombuds Urged for Boulder School District

After public outcry over a recent sex and drug education program, Boulder Valley School District in Colorado is considering hiring an ombuds to improve communications and facilitate resolution of community concerns. A local watchdog group, BSVDWatch, is urging the district to follow the lead of the school district in Austin, TX, and create an organizational ombuds position. (BSVD Minutes; BSVDWatch.org; CBS4Denver.)

July 09, 2007

Job Posting: UC Santa Barbara

The Office of the Ombuds at the University of California, Santa Barbara is looking for an Associate Ombuds. The position is 80 to 100% FTE, with benefits, and pays $57,700-$64,324 per year at the 100% FTE rate. Applications are due by July 25. (UCSB HR, reference job ID #20070361, or 805-893-3166.)

Update: Red Cross Chief Defends Ombuds Decision

Several weeks ago, Trent Stamp, president of Charity Navigator, broke the news that the Red Cross had hired an ombudsman with close ties to its newly hired president, Mark Everson. Last week, Stamp asked Everson if his first decision in his new role (that of hiring Everson's Chief of Staff at the IRS as the new Red Cross Ombudsperson) was a mistake.
Stamp: You know that I was critical of your selection of your former Chief of Staff at the IRS as your new ombudsman at the IRS. This was not based on her credentials or reputation, but on the fact that you and she had a prior working relationship, and I find it hard to believe that anyone could believe that she was truly independent, even if this is merely more perception than reality. According to the International Ombudsman Association, one of the first rules for appointment of ombuds is that they be "unaligned." Are you making the claim that your new ombudsperson is "unaligned" or were you unaware of this best practice for ombudspersons or were you aware and thought it was unimportant?

Everson: I carefully considered the appointment before I made it. We had experience with a National Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS, which is not unlike the ombudsman at the Red Cross. For an ombudsman to be effective, the person must be independent and able to work collaboratively with pieces of the organization, because if people throw up their arms and don't cooperate either in the production of information or opening up to saying what's going on, you're going to end up with a series of reports that will be critical of the organization, but no progress will be made.

The new ombudsperson is a career attorney that worked at Justice and the IRS. She has absolute integrity. I was concerned upon taking this position that, as a leader can, I would be embracing or defensive of the organization. I trust her judgment implicitly because she has come to me before and told me things about the IRS that I needed to hear. If she comes to me and says there is a problem in XYZ unit, I will believe her and act on that. There won't be a dialogue or defensiveness on my part. I trust her integrity and ability to get something done. Time will tell.

Stamp: I don't think anyone's questioning her integrity. That's not my concern. Tom Kosakowski of the Ombuds Blog wrote after her appointment, "even if she practices to standards, she will surely be perceived as biased. Without the trust of stakeholders, her effectiveness is compromised from the start." Isn't that the bigger issue here, that employees will not feel protected enough to bring their concerns to the ombudsperson if they know she has been formally aligned with you? I'm not questioning that she'll bring things to you; you trust her. But why should employees bring issues to her, if they know that she's formally aligned with you?

Everson: I don't consider her to be aligned with me. She's signed on to do that job, to provide the independent advice. She's well aware from the structure we had at the IRS of her obligation to report up to Capitol Hill, and I think she'll fill that obligation well. And again, time will tell. I think she's an inclusive person who will build the relationships both within the Red Cross and externally that she should. I think she has great behaviors and will prove to be a strong appointment.

(Charity Navigator; via Trent Stamp's Take.)

Everson's statements are reassuring to the extent that he expects the ombuds (Beverly Ortega Babers) to be independent and professional. Better still, the Red Cross should follow the advice of the International Ombudsman Association and American Bar Association and create a definitive charter or terms of reference to ensure the Red Cross ombuds is not just independent, but confidential, neutral and informal as well.

(Prior posts Bush Signs Legislation Creating Red Cross Ombuds; Concern Over Appointment of Red Cross Ombuds; Red Cross Head Responds to Criticism Over Appointment of Ombuds.)

Why Some Men Negotiate Irrationally

A study by Harvard economist Terence Burnham explains why some men make seemingly irrational negotiating decision. Burnham's research employed the "ultimatum game," in which two parties interact anonymously and only once, so reciprocation is not a strategic issue. In the game, the first player offers to divide a sum of money with the second party. If the second player rejects this division, neither gets anything. If the second accepts, the first gets his demand and the second gets the rest. Economically rational players should accept any amount of money proposed, yet some men chose to rather forgo a financial windfall than see the other player get more. Tests then revealed that men with higher testosterone levels were more likely to make the "irrational" choice. Burnham’s research thus indicates that people
really strive for is relative rather than absolute prosperity. (The Economist.)

As a former economist now working in dispute resolution, I have often been baffled by parties who are unwilling to accept a settlement because their personal outcome was perceived as relatively inferior. In many cases, it is nearly impossible to convince a party to settle, even if his or her pre-negotiation (economically rational) objectives would be met. This research indicates that it may be critical to address subjective issues of relative fairness to reach resolution.

July 06, 2007

Job Posting: UN Senior Conflict Resolution System Officer

The United Nations is accepting applications for a position reporting to the Director of the Ombudsman’s Office. The Senior Conflict Resolution System Officer will be responsible for helping to establish a single integrated and decentralized UN ombuds office and assisting visitors with concerns. For this high-level position, applicants must have an advanced university degree, significant work experience, and English fluency, and should have a second language and international dispute resolution experience. The current salary range for the position (P-5) is $104,600-$131,019 per annum. Applications are due August 7. (UN HR Announcement.)

(Prior posts UN Considers Unified Ombuds Office; Update: UN General Assembly Approves Reform of Dispute System.

July 05, 2007

Job Posting: DC Schools Ombuds

The District of Columbia is seeking an Ombudsman for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education. The incumbent will serve District residents with public education issues. The job description appears to be organizational to the extent that services are "confidential, informal, impartial, neutral, and non-adversarial." However, the ombuds will be expected to "maintain a record of all calls and complaints received." The implementation of this requirement may compromise IOA standards. The ideal candidate will have a degree in Education or Public Policy and work experience, and will be required to be or become a DC resident. The salary is $92,700-$139,050. (DC Dept of HR.)

(Prior posts DC Mayor to Announce Progress on Schools Ombuds; Washington Post Urges Appointment of DC Schools Ombuds.)

East Coast Professional Skills Program in Dispute Resolution

The Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and Vermont Law School will offer skills training in ADR October 4-6 at the Woodstock Inn in Vermont. The three-day program will feature introductory and advanced mediation training, and specialized courses for disputes in employment, medical environmental and public policy arenas. Tuition is $1,095, but discounts are available. (Straus Training Programs and Conferences.)

ACR Updates Ombuds Section Website

The Association for Conflict Resolution has revamped and updated the website for the Ombudsman Section. Currently, the site has information conferences and events (including the ACR Annual Conference, October 24-27); other ombuds associations; resources and research; and job postings. Dave McNabb, Chair of the Ombudsman Section, promises to post IOA trainings and other events. (ACR Ombudsman Section.)

July 03, 2007

New Ombuds at Cal Berkeley

The Staff Ombuds Office at the University of California, Berkeley, has announced that Sara Thacker will be the new Associate Ombudsperson beginning July 9. Thacker previously served as a faculty member and as a Hewlett Fellow at the Georgetown University Law Center, where she taught mediation, negotiation, and other ADR topics. She earned a J.D. degree from the University of Iowa and an LL.M. in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown. Thacker has mediated disputes for the Equal Opportunity Commission and the D.C. Department of Human Rights. Readers of the IOA "Independent Voice" will remember her recent article "Where are the Ombuds? The Hidden Potential of Law Firm Ombuds."

(Related post Musical Chairs at the University of California.)