MERRILLVILLE — A recent survey of Northwest Indiana public employees found complaints of bullying, sexual harassment and drinking in the public workplace.
The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission quizzed nearly 1,500 local government employees in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties last year about the impact of ethics training the commission offers them to recognize and report unethical public behavior.
Calvin Bellamy, commission president, said Thursday some of those taking the survey volunteered comments about unethical behavior they believe they have observed, some of which could be illegal.
Bellamy stated that more than one third of the employees expressed concern that public resources are being misused, as well as citing favoritism and other conflicts of interest.
Three complained of ghost employment — individuals drawing a public salary, but not showing up for work.
Several complained of double dipping and nepotism, including elected officials and department heads hiring family members, and individuals or families holding more than one payroll spot.
One reported apparent bribery, and four complained about improper gifts and gratuities.
There were 19 complaints of bullying and harassment by supervisors and co-workers and in one case by unidentified council members. Some felt disrespected, and one reported racial discrimination.
Six complained about “lax supervision of unproductive workers.” Five mentioned problems with hiring practices, enforcement of work and the processing of time cards.
Others reported “the operation of an ‘old boy’ network,” and complained about office politics. Seven mentioned sexual harassment or misconduct, two reported drinking in the workplace, and three complained of a lack of confidentiality.
One unidentified respondent reported “council pressure to misuse public resources by trimming trees not on the public right-of-way and provide lawn sod for friends or family members.” One reported an unidentified public department was overstaffed.
Bellamy said the comments were given on the understanding that they would remain anonymous, so they are being shared with everyone without any information to identify who or where the complaints are directed at.
He said there are fewer such complaints than in past surveys and employees who have undergone the commission’s training and took the survey show a greater awareness of ethical values member communities have agreed to uphold and a better understanding of what behaviors constitute violations.
“Overall, we believe the survey shows growing support for ethics and ethics training in Northwest Indiana’s public employment sector,” he said.
Tom Dabertin, a human resources consultant for Lake County government and other region communities, said the survey shows local employees would need additional training in specific areas of concern.
“Some of the people who took the survey need to realize the ethics training is only a whetting of the appetite with general basics about treating property and individual employees with respect. It doesn’t give a lot of specific examples,” Dabertin said.
“I do training for the county and a number of communities on sexual harassment, employees under the influence, diversity in the workplace focusing on different types of discrimination and Americans with Disabilities Act, which is about respecting individuals for themselves.
“Sexual harassment training is more detailed in focusing on the how and why sexual harassment is illegal and unwanted,” he said.
The Shared Ethics Advisory Commission has been providing ethics training since 2005.
Its members now include Lake, Porter, and LaPorte county government employees and municipal employees for: Crown Point, East Chicago, Gary, Hobart, Lake Station, Valparaiso, and Whiting, Towns: Burns Harbor, Cedar Lake, Chesterton, Dyer, Hebron, Highland, Lowell, Merrillville, Munster, Ogden Dunes, Schererville and Westville.