A whistleblower hotline may be coming to Deschutes County.

During a Monday work session, county commissioners discussed updating a policy that governs how complaints against county employees are handled in line with the whistleblower law passed by the state Legislature in 2018, including a secure channel to report wrongdoing.

While not required by the state, the county’s internal auditor, ­David Givans, along with county legal counsel Chris Bell, asked the commission Monday to consider approving a 24-hour hotline that would be run by a third party to help uncover county employee misconduct.

“We don’t get that many tips, which makes me question if we have an effective program,” said Givans, who is in charge of investigating internal misconduct, after the meeting. “I’ve been saying for a long time it’d be nice to have a hotline.”

The new policy broadens the definition of misconduct — the current policy focuses on fraud and abuse of power for personal gain — to include wasting or inefficiently using county resources as a reportable offense. The policy also protects people who report misconduct from getting punished for their actions.

It would apply to all county employees, committee and commission members, as well as any contractors or other agencies doing business with the county.

Adding a hotline is important, Givans said, because it encourages more people to report. According to data from the Navex Corporate Compliance Report and Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, 40% of the cases in which fraud was caught originated from hotline calls, compared with the 15% caught by internal investigators alone.

The city of Portland and Oregon’s state employees have similar systems.

“That’s 2.7 times more effective than even my work,” Givans said. “You find (problems) quicker, and you get at it earlier.”

Part of the hotline’s success comes from the ability for someone to report anonymously.

Today, a staff member looking to report misconduct or an ethics violation would need to report it directly to a department head, elected official or to Givans as the internal auditor. Under the new policy, employees could go directly to the third party, anonymously, to raise their concerns.

The service would cost about $3,000 to $5,000 a year, Bell said.

“If we can avoid one lawsuit … that more than justifies the cost,” Bell said.

Overall, commissioners were supportive of creating a safe situation for employees to report issues — regardless of how much the system would or wouldn’t be used.

“It could just be one, … but that one could be very serious business,” Commissioner Tony DeBone said. “Catching something like this could be invaluable to us.”

But Commissioner Phil Henderson took issue with the fact that an employee could be reported for being inefficient, arguing that it was a difficult standard to adjudicate objectively.

“One person’s waste is another person’s desired project. How do you know whether it’s waste?” Henderson said, directing his question toward Givans.

Bell said the idea would be to investigate whether someone deviated from process or policy to complete the project, but agreed to work with commissioners to clarify the language at a future work session.

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, bvisser@bendbulletin.com