Corrections & Expansions (31 Jan 09) Post

I have been experiencing some “input” anonymously on my last post regarding the “meaning of ombudsman”.  I’d like to clarify and expand 3 points.

1.  There is no such word as “fonnal” in the Miriam-Webster Dictionary and the extensive use of the words in my research is a function of mis-spelling of the word “informal”.  “Fonnal” now has taken on a meaning and “life of it’s own” if you load it into a search engine and read the links that pop up.  This is now, according to direct sources and my research, a function of “Internet lexicon”.  So take it as it is, formally there is no such word, I’ve made the correction, however; clearly others use the word “fonnal” in the context of “ethical methods or methodology”.

2.  Yes, I kept the ABA reference to the basic 3 types of Ombudsmen they define and put into their original resolution: Classical, Organizational and Advocate Ombudsman.  In an August 2004 “amendment” to the original “dispute resolution” embracing of the term “ombudsman” it was yet again expanded to now include: Executive Ombudsman and Legislative Ombudsman.  I am indeed pointing this out for everyone to consider that the ABA is “defining” the Ombudsperson Profession so as to “corner” and become THE “authority” on dispute resolution.  If one stands back and neutrally looks at the “business model” this latest amendment proposes it now does the following:

  • Classical Ombudsman – is a reference to the traditional government ombudsman practice where constituents can file complaints against officials or agents that may or may not have abused their powers in the performance of their fiduciary obligations with citizens.
  • Organizational Ombudsman – includes ombudsmen that are aligned with a single organization, perhaps manage a program or office for a corporation or other entity.  Clearly though, there is today an “expanded capacity” for a modern and independent role utilizing technology and applications of ombudsman dispute resolution to a broader set of entities and organizations.  After all, we are moving, in modern parlance, from “ombudsman” to “ombudsperson” are we not?
  • Advocate Ombudsman – is probably the worst example and “spin” by the ABA in an attempt to legitimize an ombudsman that would “advocate”  one side of a dispute or take a position against another organization or entity.  These has never been proposed by TOA or IOA.  Again, this is my point, the “true” and virtuous ombudsman does not “align” with one side or the other in an issue, complaint or dispute at all.  The word “advocate” comes from a centuries old term for “legal advocate” in defense of a person or group.  The “advocate” function in politics and society is fulfilled by non-profits sponsored by organizations, institutions or even religious orders, but is not an ombudsman role and should not be “affirmed” as such with a resolution by a professional legal association.
  • Legislative Ombudsman – attempts to now align a “law making” oversight role in government.  I’ve not seen any examples of this yet, but let me finish and you see what I’m after.
  • Executive Ombudsman – is once again an attempt to align an ombudsman role with the executive branch of government.  Let the Supreme Court and Congress “check” this branch, it works well in that there is “parity” between these powers.

So now, what “business model” results?  All 3 branches in the “checks and balances” of the Federal Government (judicial, legislative & executive) are going to have the ABA’s version of “arbitration and mediation” in an attempt to bring “authority and judicial due process” to these branches of government.  Isn’t this similar to a lobby?  Can’t the Classical Ombudsman continue to play the vital role and act on behalf of citizens with all 3 branches?  No one else is “advocating” this model but ABA and it is being thrust forward without consideration for “true” ADR – Alternative Dispute Resolution, which leads to my final point.

3  My final “expansion” point is on ADR.  What is ADR?  It’s an “alternative” form of dispute resolution, but an “alternative” to what?  Lest’ we not forget ADR is suppose to be the alternative to formal judicial and administrative channels in governance whether it’s corporate or government.  Isn’t this an “oxymoron” then when you read the ABA Dispute Resolution document and all related legal terms use to define “ombudsman”?  There is a sequential progression to disputes and just like with “peace officers” on the front line everyday.  Peace Officers are suppose to do just that, solve disputes, protect and serve until there is violence and a crime.  The ABA needs to play their appropriate role after issues, disputes and complaints have progressed to “immanent harm” or post “harm”, after harm has gone too far and a defense of liberty and justice is called for.

In a 2002 document from TOA to the ABA, The TOA Board of Directors is very diplomatic and tactful in a response to ABA setting for “ombudsman standards” and at the time trying to impose Corporate and Academic Ombudsman definitions.  TOA respectfully requests that the term “Organizational Ombudsman” is sufficient and under TOA guidelines fulfills the function and role ABA tries to “spin” again.  The TOA agrees that corporate fraud and misconduct needs addressed, if an ombudsman role is to be invoked, it should remain “informal” and asks ABA to remove legal terms in their definition of the newly “spun” role.  TOA speaks to ethics and corporate responsibility roles for Organizational Ombudsmen while ABA speaks to “formal compliance” roles for ombudsmen.  TOA specifically asks for the ABA to remove all “compliance certification” terminology from their preliminary report.  This is the best “contrasting view” one can observe if you read all documentation in detail.

It’s been fun this  “bumper cars” type of input from everyone, I do appreciate it, but I also hope everyone can see for themselves, read and get perspective.  As you read the signatures on the current Proposal to President Obama for an Ombudsman function everyone is in alignment with terms for ADR and ombudsman mediation.  The ABA as a professional legal assocation should embrace the IOA Ethics and Standards of Practice as their “guidance” in mediation and dispute resolution and “state the difference” making it separate and apart from their arbitration, jurisdiction and authority terminology in their formal resolutions.


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