Q: What is an ombudsperson?
An ombudsperson is someone who investigates concerns and complaints within an organization while acting as a neutral party. They provide an informal process for seeking resolution to these concerns. The Ombuds profession was first introduced in Sweden in 1809. In 1967, the concept made its way to the United States when Hawaii appointed the country’s first ombudsperson. The profession has a long history of traditions and values that include a dedication to a Code of Ethics promoting fairness, integrity, truthfulness and respect.
Q: How is an ombudsperson different from a lawyer or a mediator?
A lawyer is a party that is licensed to practice law and give formal legal advice, and while an ombudsperson may have similar skills as a mediator, they do not provide formal resolutions to conflicts. Instead, an ombudsperson acts independently while evaluating and investigating concerns. They then identify the proper steps to take for a formal resolution.
Q: Who holds this position?
The Manager of the Office of Public Stewardship, Teresa Toney, holds the position as citizen and employee ombudsperson for the Maricopa Community Colleges. She can be reached at (480) 731-8880 or (480) 731-8084.
Q: Where will the Ombuds Office be located?
The Office of Public Stewardship is located on the first floor of the District Office in Room 129/130. In addition to the Ombudsperson, there is a separate 24 hour hotline available 7 days a week and an online submittal process, the Maricopa Concernline, at http://www.concernline.maricopa.edu/.
Q: Will the ombudsperson provide services to both MCCCD employees as well as its students?
Ombuds Services will be available to citizens and employees. Students who have concerns relative to instructional and non-instructional matters should follow the proper grievance procedures outlined in Administrative Regulation 2.3.5 and 2.3.12 or their student handbook.
Q: What authority will this person have?
The services provided by an ombudsperson involve an informal process. Primarily, an ombudsperson listens and identifies the options that are available based upon the concern presented.
Q: Will they be an advocate for you?
An ombudsperson stands behind four ethical principles; independence, neutrality / impartiality, confidentiality and informality. In order to uphold these ethical standards he or she must keep an unbiased, objective stance by not advocating for either party. They do however, advocate for the process itself.
Q: Whom does the ombudsperson report to?
For the sole purpose of trend reporting, the party will report directly to the Chancellor.
Q: How will the ombudsperson maintain confidentiality; how private will the process be?
All communications, anonymous or not, will be held in strict confidence, and confidential information will not be disclosed unless given permission to do so. The only information provided to the District will be a summarized aggregated datareport for trend monitoring purposes. The one exception is where there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm, at which point the proper authorities will be notified immediately.
Q: When should you contact the ombudsperson?
You should always attempt to inform your immediate supervisor of any concerns prior to contacting the ombudsperson. If the concern cannot be resolved by your supervisor, for any reason, at that point you should contact the ombudsperson. Some examples for contacting the ombudsperson are: complaints and concerns regarding an alleged violation of law, mismanagement, gross waste of monies, abuse of authority, improprieties conducted by employees and/or elected officials, policy violations or systemic operational problems in which no prior procedure for resolution has been established.
Q: Why does MCCCD need an ombudsperson?
Upon recommendation of the Community Blue Ribbon Panel, the District Office has established an employee ombudsperson to serve as an avenue for submitting concerns in accordance to the Governing Board’s Whistleblower Policy. An ombudsperson will provide a confidential environment where employees can speak freely without fear of retaliation and/or intimidation.
Q: What resolution will come from the process, what authority do they have?
The ultimate resolution will vary depending on the issue that is presented. Since this process is informal, an ombudsperson does not have authority to make decisions or directly resolve issues, but instead helps to identify the options for resolution. He or she may however, conduct reviews into the concerns based upon a complaint and provide guidance to the avenues available for resolution.
in the Summer 2007 Edition of In Brief