EDITORIAL – New Ombudsman: ‘Smart,’ ‘tough,’ and facing a challenge

In September, Sandy Hermiston will become the leader of the Cayman Islands Office of the Ombudsman, a new department that will consolidate the responsibilities of the complaints commissioner and the information commissioner, two important posts that have been vacant for years. We welcome her to our islands.

Ms. Hermiston and her staff will oversee data protection and whistleblower legislation while investigating and resolving complaints against government ministries, portfolios, departments and sections, statutory authorities and government companies, including police.

The work will not be easy (as former Complaints Commissioner, Nicola Williams, former Information Commissioner Jennifer Dilbert and acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers surely can attest … not to mention current Auditor General Sue Winspear and her predecessors). Ms. Hermiston can expect to face some resistance from entrenched interests, politicians, regulators and civil servants who may be perfectly content with “business as usual.”

Last week’s announcement of Ms. Hermiston’s hiring generated the predictable chatter about the selection committee’s failure to choose a Caymanian for the new post. But the operative question for this (indeed, for any) new hire is not, “Where is she from?” It is, “What can she do?”

Ms. Hermiston’s distinguished resume – including more than 30 years of experience as a lawyer, nearly all of that in the public sector, with her most recent stint as general counsel for the ombudsman for Alberta, Canada – suggests that while she may be new to our islands, she is not new to the challenges her position inevitably entails.

Ms. Hermiston’s significant experience, no doubt, was a key factor that set her apart from the other 30 candidates reviewed by the selection committee tasked with finding the right candidate for this new position.

A former colleague offered her assessment of Ms. Hermiston’s work on her LinkedIn profile, writing: “Simply put, Sandy knows her stuff! Tough as nails too, when need be!” Knowledgeable and tough – those are two qualities that will serve her well in her new capacity.

The Compass need not tell Ms. Hermiston that her chosen profession is one that can be difficult, and sometimes lonely. It requires opening doors (and file cabinets), asking tough questions (and follow-up questions) and shining light onto practices that perhaps flourish better in the dark.

In the journalism world, a tradition among larger newspapers is to have an ombudsman who scrutinizes, and often criticizes, the organization on readers’ behalf. When Margaret Sullivan retired from The New York Times in 2016 (her exact title was “public editor”), she said of her tenure and departure: “When I got to the three-year mark, I realized there’s a reason this job has a pretty tight term limit. You need to be an outsider, you need to have an outside perspective.” (For the record, not long after New York Times executives bid farewell to Ms. Sullivan, they also terminated the title of public editor – and its function.)

Our hope for Ms. Hermiston is that a brilliant execution of her job will result in the lengthening of her tenure among us – not a shortening of it as has been the experience of too many of her predecessors – probing commissioners, auditors general and “ombudspeople” of every stripe.

As a newspaper, we welcome you to your new home – and to your new post.

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