But rather than Diaz's lofty vision of a place to construct social harmony from creative conflict, what could ultimately save the IRP is an ordinance passed right before he took office. On March 5, 1996, county commissioners endorsed what is commonly known as the Whistle-Blower Ordinance. It specifically gives the IRP subpoena power to investigate on behalf of county employees who feel they have suffered retaliation for disclosing the wrongdoing of co-workers and supervisors. County employee unions insist that all such cases be referred to the IRP. "There was a real concern by unions that this would be another mechanism by which employees could be hounded," explains Morales. "I think they saw [the IRP] as the poison you know rather than one you don't."
The IRP has only completed one whistle-blower case since the ordinance passed last year. The incident involved a vendor at the seaport who accused another vendor of trafficking in stolen goods, and alleged that he lost his job for his efforts. After mediation by the panel, the vendor accepted a monetary settlement from the seaport of several thousand dollars. Diaz vows that more cases are forthcoming and hopes to double the number of total complaints the panel investigates. "There is more opportunity than ever before to address justice issues in this community," he insists. But in a perilous time of budget cuts, he fears he might never get the chance to unleash the flood of whistle-blower and local government complaints he believes are out there.
Commissioners gave the county manager 30 days to report back on the IRP and the ethics commission, at which point the IRP's opponents could try to eliminate it again.