Voilating the Public Trust

What Does the City of Bozeman, MT Need to Do to Regain the Public Trust

July 14, 2009

To the Bozeman City Commissioners

The city of Bozeman, Montana has recently been in the news for violations of the public trust and concerns of ethics and morals of their hiring processes. These concerns definitely need to be addressed. The city is currently in the process of selecting an investigatorto look into these controversial hiring practices.

Though the issues and the full solution are rather complicated, much of it can be simplified. The city of Bozeman wants to regain the public trust, good. Here are some of the issues, and what needs to be done to address them.

To understand what needs to be done in the most basic sense, you must address the issues and the excuses the city has come up with for the absolutely unacceptable and intolerable practice of requesting, let alone requiring, applicants to proved usernames and passwords to on-line services and networks.

Morals and Ethics

The first excuse the City of Bozeman came up with was that this was an issue of insuring that the potential employees had the correct moral and ethical standing to represent the city. This is according to city attorney Greg Sullivan in an interview with KBZK television last month.

If this is an issue of morals and ethics, then asking for the usernames and passwords is unquestionably on the wrong side of this moral high ground the city is claiming to adhere to.

Merely asking for this question is highly unethical and of very questionable morals. This is arguably akin to asking for applicant's credit card account numbers, contact information, and billing history to investigate what kind of purchase the applicant has made, or asking for the keys to the client's safety deposit boxes to see what kind of items they have secreted away where people don't see them, or requiring applicants to provide access to their private homes for an unrestricted search, just in case you could find something that otherwise the applicant had kept well separated from their public and professional life.

In addition, requiring this information is almost always requiring the applicant to break contracts they have entered into with other organizations. Having an applicant provide this information on an application demonstrates that the applicant is unethical and untrustworthy.

Public Trust

When the heat on city from around the world got too high, Human Resources Director Patty Berg and City Manager Chris Kukulski came out this another excuse. They stated that the username and password information was strictly voluntary, and that the city will do everything necessary to restore the public trust.

On it's face, that sounds great; the login information isn't required, it's optional, and the city values the public trust. But there's two problems.

First, as many have pointed out, the questions on any application form are never "answer some of these if you feel like it," they are always "answer all of these if you have any interest in being hired."

Second, anyone who has answered this question has now demonstrated that they are completely incapable of holding their own trust, let alone the public trust and is summarily unfit for the position, and they have simultaneously demonstrated that they have absolutely no concept or understanding of privacy or security issues and concerns and cannot be trusted with any government information on any citizen or business information.

The City's Lies

This is further complicated when it comes out that the city lied to try to save face. As noted above, Patty Berg and Chris Kukulski said that this was strictly voluntary. When you applied, you could chose to provide this information or not. Beyond the concerns of whether an applicant will take this offer seriously to only answer the questions they feel like answering, or whether an employee checking applications will ignore the fact that some of the applications are completed and others are not, there is another issue.

Apparently, providing this information wasn't voluntary, it was mandatory.

Well, there go any hopes at the public trust...

What Needs to Be Done?

Yes, an investigation needs to be conducted into how this information was used, if it ever was used. What was used, when it was used, and how it was used need to all be disclosed. Then, any records of any usernames or passwords need to be destroyed. Not covered with white out, but shredded to insure the privacy of the people whose information has been compromized.

Then, to address the moral and ethical concerns of the city, concerns which the city claims to hold high, the person or people who were responsible for suggesting this policy need to be fired. They have demonstrated unquestioningly that they are not of the ethical and moral fiber that the city requires. Whether these people are tenured or contracted, whether they are members of an organized labor union or not, they need to be removed from their position, and they probably also need to be denied any public retirement or pension they have been working toward.

Following the termination of those responsible for suggesting the policy, those responsible for approving the policy need to be terminated, with the same prejudice. Either they are lacking the same moral and ethical requirements that the city holds so high, and they are incapable of comprehending basic privacy or security concerns, or they have manifestly demonstrated their incompetence in their position by not reviewing the policies and procedures they are responsible for and authorizing.

After this has been completed, the issue of the public trust must be addressed. This one is a little more straight forward. Any individual who provided this information on their application when applying for a city job must also be terminated. As noted above, these individuals have all demonstrated that they are incapable of holding their own trust, let alone the public trust. And again, they have demonstrated that they have no concept of privacy or security and as such cannot be allowed access to any information which could be considered sensitive or any personally identifiable information on businesses or citizens.

Yes, this means firing several people, if not most people, in the city's HR department, and probably firing anyone hired after this policy was put in place early in 2008. Yes, it will be hard for the city to operate until these vacancies are filled. But if the public trust is of concern to Bozeman, or if the ethical and moral character of city employees are relevant, those people the city has hired that have demonstrated themselves to be of low morals, poor ethics, or incapable of holding the public trust or understanding privacy need to be removed from the city's employ.

How Can the City Hire?

Well, the city can revert to how they hired before the unethical leaders in the HR department decided to throw ethics, morals, and the public trust out the window. Performing background checks is fine. Looking on-line for information about the person, or the person's own web sites is fine. Contacting previous employers is fine. Checking personal references is fine.

Of course, coupled with this is an expectation of maturity on the part of whoever is performing the hiring and interviewing ad checking to understand the difference between people's public life, private life, and professional life.

Of course, with what has come out in the last month about Bozeman's current hiring practices, this may be a real challenge for the City's current HR department...