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Activists take Rockville City to task

Claims recent investigation fell short of expectations

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Published on: Wednesday, December 26, 2012

By Christa Puccio

ROCKVILLE – Some city activists find themselves on opposite sides of the fence from Rockville’s mayor and council on an issue of the City officials choosing not to publicly release a report from an investigation in to former employees’ claims of racism, illegal procedures and unfair performance evaluations.

“They didn’t investigate and they didn’t question all the people who had complaints and now just the fact that someone else has filed a lawsuit, it’s a reflection that it was not a thorough investigation,” said Rockville Charter Commission Chair Steve VanGrack, who is also a former Mayor of the City of Rockville and a lawyer.  “The second part is, if the mayor and council have to make policy changes on behalf of the people of the city and the people who work there, why are they not entitled to know what happened?  In fact, they should know what happened.  If there is a need to protect the identities of the individuals, then the names can be redacted from the report.  But the mayor and council need to know what happened in order for them to take the appropriate action.”

This, following the City of Rockville and Saul Ewing LLP entering into a contractual agreement on May 4, 2012 after five former employees of the city alleged to The Sentinel that the city management was guilty of discrimination, racism, tampering of employee personnel files and more.  At the conclusion of the investigation, Saul Ewing agreed to compile a confidential report summarizing its findings and offer recommendations to the City.  The City refuses to release that report to the public.  

The city manager did say 44 people were interviewed by the law firm, but former employees say they were never contacted.

“It is disturbing to me, and, to many others, that this so-called investigation of 44 in-house employees, cost almost $200,000, which comes out to a $4,500 per person,” said former councilmember Anne Mahoney Robbins.  “If each of the M/C were asked to appropriate this type of money, (in theory), I wonder what each one of you would say.  Hello, this is taxpayer's money, and nobody seems to know anything, or want to say anything, beyond the usual public administration babble – which is only common sense ideas.  And, who, and why, picked this Saul Ewing Law Firm?  It seems to me that there are other firms, better-suited to an investigation of this type.”

Another city activist says claiming to protect employees in this case may not even be valid.  “It’s understandable that the City of Rockville cannot divulge information regarding current City managers’ conduct, but this may not be the case with former City managers that were the concern of Ewing’s investigation,” said Drew Powell, a local city activist.  “If there was wrongdoing on the part of ex-City officials, either employed or elected, Rockville citizens have a right to know what transpired and specifically what corrective action will be taken to insure that current and future City officials do not repeat these transgressions.  After more than a year of allegations of gross managerial misconduct and a $190,000 investigation, citizens deserve a full accounting to bring closure to this matter.”

The Mayor and Council of the City of Rockville, except Councilmember Mark Pierzchala who said “Usually I respond to the press; this time I have chosen not to respond,” said they would like to know what is in the reporter but “it would be inappropriate” for them to demand access to it.

“There is no evidence that I don't want to know what's in the report,” said Councilmember John Hall.  “On the contrary, truthfully, I would like to know every bit of what's in the report.   In my role, under Rockville's system of governance, however, it is not appropriate for me to have access to the privileged, confidential details of investigatory matters regarding city personnel who are directed by the city manager, and not by the governing body.   The city manager needs to know the details of the report; she is charged with that responsibility; and she will take such action – including, potentially, personnel adjustments – as is appropriate to address the issues identified therein.   All of the members of the governing body have high-confidence in the City Manager in this regard.    Additionally, the mayor and council has no authority – and indeed is subject to specific statutory prohibitions – regarding certain city personnel management matters subject to the jurisdiction of the city manager, particularly with regard to appointments, discipline, and removal.”

Tom Moore said the mayor and council can make policy changes without having read the report.  “Of course we can.  There’s a law firm that knows, there’s a city manager that knows all the details, there’s a city attorney that knows all those details.  Those are the appropriate people to know those details and they have digested all of that and they made recommendations to us and we will take those recommendations because that’s what we pay these people to do,” said Moore.  “I’m not going to just take [their recommendations] blindly, but I don’t need to know the underlying, blow-by-blow personal personnel details that are underlying those recommendations.  It is absolutely inappropriate and contrary to the law the law to do that.”

While Moore said a decision was made for Saul Ewing to only interview current city employees, Marcuccio said she was not aware that the contract stated Saul Ewing was supposed to conduct investigations into “complains by [an redacted number] of former City employees regarding the City of Rockville’s Department of Community Planning and Development Services and Department of Human Resources.  

“Well that’s probably referring to some of the people who left the city or were let go by that department and I guess the complaints that we had heard were essentially coming from those people who had gone,” said Marcuccio.  “It would be natural that you would want to make sure that that department was included in whatever investigation is going on, but I didn’t realize we had pointed it like that.  I really thought we were being very careful.”

Councilmember Bridget Newton also said a decision was made to only interview current employees.  “I would personally say as an individual, not as a council member, that I am sorry that the decision was made to interview just current city employees,” said Newton.  “While I feel it was for the better, I know that did not offer any closure to those employees that felt that should have been involved.  I think we will still have enough information going forward to effect change for the better in Rockville.”

Councilmember John Hall said according to the information that the mayor and council received, every person who contacted the investigators was, in-turn, contacted by the investigators and invited for an interview.  “If some complainants contacted the investigators, and their communications were not followed-up, then, in my opinion they should have been,” said Hall.

Moore said he believes Saul Ewing did a good job with the investigation because “they had no motive to do otherwise.”  According to Moore, “they were going to get paid no matter what they came up with.”

Newton said there were a lot of standard operating procedures that were not in place and should have been in place and going forward there will be that will be procedures that will be standard throughout the city.  “I think we got very clear information that there needed to be changes made, policy changes made , we will make those changes and the city manager will make whatever changes she feels is necessary and we’re going to go forward into 2013 with a better city,” said Newton.

Reader Comments - 1 Total

captcha e114ab6ec805458a91f742bfde823b13

Posted By: edgar allen poe On: 12/26/2012

Title: edgar allen poe

There is no law or regulations that denies these peole access to the redacted facts of this investigation. In fact there is a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers to disclose all malfeaseance so they can decide who and who not to support in the elections.
This is typical irresponsible unaccountable government in inaction.
The people affected ned oto come forward and state their claims... i will bet the city will break some rules to try and defend itself agisnt the allegations.


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