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Rockville vows to investigate claims

Mayor and council member respond to claims of harassment

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Published on: Thursday, April 12, 2012

By Christa Puccio

ROCKVILLE - The Mayor of the City of Rockville and a councilmember said the City of Rockville is investigating former employees’ claims of racism, harassment, discrimination, tampering of personnel files and discrimination.  

“We’ll review the whole process to find out what in the world is going on,” said Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio.  “We had an executive session on Monday night to discuss our city manager choosing and we were concerned about the issues in The Sentinel.  We feel there should be a review and we will take action to investigate a bit better into what is going on.  We are looking for suggestions from the city attorney and put her to the task of how to review this process.  I’m sure she’ll go to other sources – that’s the most appropriate route.  No employer, no matter who it is, likes to hear unhappiness so we’d like to get to the bottom of it.”

The problem surfaced last fall when a former Rockville city clerk accused the city of discriminating against her as a black female employee and without her knowledge stuffed her personnel file with spurious accusations. The former clerk received a severance package from the city totaling nearly $43,000.  Recently, four more employees brought their complaints of harassment, discrimination, tampering of personnel files and discrimination to the Sentinel.

“Right now we have no comment on [the claims],” said Councilmember Bridget Newton.  “But I want to say it’s all being handled with personnel and with the city attorney and we’ll wait to see what they have to say.  We’re looking into things and when there’s something to report, we’ll let everyone know.”

A former councilmember of the City of Rockville called upon the Mayor and Council to investigate the claims made by the former employees.  “Do you realize how embarrassing it is to get these articles?” wrote Anne Mahoney Robbins.  “The ‘old hiding behind, we cannot comment, due to possible litigation,’ can only take you so far.  [Councilmember] Tom [Moore], where is your outrage r.e. the First Amendment r.e. this entire mess?  I am disgusted, and would like the [Mayor and Council] to ask for an investigation; this is not going away.  When will something be done?”

A spokesperson for the City of Rockville confirmed that the claims are currently under investigation.  “As mentioned before, all complaints are investigated thoroughly and appropriate action is taken,” said Marylou Berg, communications manager for the City of Rockville.  “The City of Rockville takes its employees and personnel concerns very seriously.”

Last week, a former employee claimed that her employee evaluation was unprofessionally conducted.  “Rockville bases raises on the employee evaluations,” said Nancy Williams, a retired Community Planning and Development Services (CPDS) specialist.  “So, if you don’t get an employee evaluation you can’t get a raise.  I started complaining and it became an issue because [the supervisor] did not want to do it.  I put more pressure on [the supervisor] and started complaining at training sessions.  [The supervisor] decided to give me an employee evaluation that was awful.  [The supervisor] sat in front of me and screamed and hollered and was verbally abusive to me.  I documented that in the [grievance letter] I wrote to [the supervisor].”

According to Rockville’s personnel and procedures manual, the director of personnel, Carlos Vargas, is responsible for the administration and interpretation of performance evaluations and related policies and procedures; distribution of forms; review of performance evaluations for completeness, accuracy, and proper signatures; ensuring that the evaluation is conducted properly and that it becomes part of the employee's personnel record; and transmittal to all rating supervisors and department directors of appropriate instructions and/or training on how to properly conduct performance evaluations.  

Vargas did not return phone calls or emails by the release of this article. 

Another former employee, Carol Reitz, wrote to the city manager, human resources and the mayor and council on Jan. 8, 2010 with similar complaints.  Reitz wrote, “As the months progressed, [the manager] took advantage of meetings to publicly berate and insult staff.  [The manager’s] comments were unprofessional, making comments regarding ethnic association.  Staff sensed bigotry in certain remarks [the manager] made about specific staff.  Because of the comments, there appeared to be a disregard or lack of respect for CPDS staff.  Needless to say, this behavior undermines the team effort, lowers morale, and infects all with a disrespectful attitude toward management, and is hardly representative of the Rockville Way… if staff disagrees with [the manager], [the manager] is quick to retaliate by creating impossible deadlines and workloads that are difficult to achieve in the time expected, particularly when relying on outside sources.”

Rietz also complained about evaluations being unprofessionally conducted.  “[The manager] also writes every evaluation, editing some at least three or four times, until [the manager] ‘evens the score’ for those who disagree or with whom [the manager] does not like by bringing the marks to the unacceptable level… When given my final edited edition, [the supervisor] apologized profusely for the low grading, saying with tears in [the supervisor’s] eyes, that I deserved better.”

Another employee, Charles Baker, a retired former chief of inspection services, claimed “The City of Rockville has become a toxic environment and a majority of people who come to work every day are in fear of losing their jobs.  Employees get zero support from human resources.  Anytime someone goes over and complains, there’s a partial, somewhat haphazard investigation and nothing ever comes of it.  You call them on the phone, they don’t answer.  You go over and ask for the person – they’re not in.  I went to the window and could see the person that I needed to speak with and was told they weren’t available.  There’s a huge problem within that agency.”

Baker said one manager demanded negative changes to another employee’s performance evaluation, Eric Rose.  “I had people I thought were doing a good job, [the manager] thought completely the opposite of that,” said Baker.  “[The manager] would force me to rewrite the evaluations that were full of lies, constantly.  Anything that moved from the Eric’s original evaluation was because I was forced to make the change by my manager.  [The manager] is supposed to just make sure everything was filled out properly, not change my evaluation.”

Rose, a former plumbing inspector, said claimed he endured racial discrimination and harassment during his tenure with the city.  “His comment was ‘I didn’t know black people could have a cowlick,’” said Rose.  “And that, behind all of the other things he’s said, I reported him.  It was the first time I did, but I probably could have many times before.”

Baker said that HR did an investigation but it was eventually “swept under the rug.” 

“The overall recommendation was that the entire department go through sensitivity training,” said Baker.  “Now, nothing was done to his supervisor, absolutely nothing.”

Reader Comments - 11 Total

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Posted By: Ellen On: 4/20/2012

Title: Axes to grind?

If these allegations are legitimate, why is no one named in the article?
I'm all for transparency in the system but I can also read between the lines. This looks an awful lot like the work of disgruntled workers. The whole "files were changed" thing is very conspiracy theory.

Posted By: Mad as Hell On: 4/19/2012


Well the circus is in town and it is located in City Hall. The ring leader has now retired to enjoy his fat citizen tax funded retirement while the clowns run around hiding from the reporters and release statements like 'we do not respond to rumors' WTF... rumors she said? It is clear to me that the paper had proof of the claims by city staff so where are the rumors Ms. Berg? Stop with the spin!!!
Let us cut to the chase here. Several in city hall need to be standing in the unemployment line or better yet standing curbside on Rockville Pike shaking a soup cup for loose change.

Posted By: Bernie McConell On: 4/18/2012

Title: Let's start over.

The problems cited in these articles did not just start. I suggest that the upper managers of several departments were hired by Ullery to do exactly what you see cited in these articles. What we see is the end result of a plan that has backfired.
For years now it appears that the city management has gotten away with this reckless abuse of power and displayed a complete disrespect of staff. In addition to possibly violating peoples civil and human rights, federal laws relating to privacy and many other statutes etc...
A 25 year Rockville resident.
What they did not count on is that several bold former employees would go public with their stories. Now poor Rockville is looking for a way to rid itself of the whiners, only to find out that the citizens see right through the good old boy smoke screen used so many times in the past.
It is time for, Kimball, Swift, Vargas and Purkey to step down and leave the city.
New leadership must demand fresh faces in the leadership positions of the city. Keeping these people in their positions is to reward them for their abuses.
A real sad day for what was a great place to live.

Posted By: buff On: 4/17/2012


It is a sad fact that the City has to come to having it internal operations being aired in such a public forum. If any investigation, is actually conducted, it should be done in an expeditious manner and the results be acted upon in the same fashion. Also the employees should be made aware of the results.
If the City continues to follow the path it is on there will be several long time employees leaving the City. Several are in the process of leaving now. With their loss the City is losing a valuable asset of their expertise and knowledge. This results in a great disservice to the Citizens of Rockville

Posted By: Steve M On: 4/17/2012

Title: We have a city comic. But she is not funny!

This comment kills me.
A spokesperson for the City of Rockville confirmed that the claims are currently under investigation. “As mentioned before, all complaints are investigated thoroughly and appropriate action is taken,” said Marylou Berg, communications manager for the City of Rockville. “The City of Rockville takes its employees and personnel concerns very seriously.”
Under investigation yeah right bt the same people in HR that dropped the ball by allowing this to happen.
A sad day in the city for sure.
Steve M, a lifelong resident.

Posted By: Jay Dove On: 4/17/2012

Title: Where is the expierence?

What shameful behavior on the part of the city. This style of draconial management went out with the dark ages and the rack.
From an employee: "Charles Baker, a retired former chief of inspection services, claimed “The City of Rockville has become a toxic environment and a majority of people who come to work every day are in fear of losing their jobs."
Reports of employees fearing going to work, tampering and all the other items mentioned in the articles are just discusting at best and at worse a violation of city policy and many laws.
Just imagine the mental toll that this has on a person. The paper indicates Mr. Rose suffered because of the harassment encountered while at work.
Ms. Reitz and Ms. Williams both clearly state their evaluations under Swift suddenly showed them to be poor employees. Give me a break. How many staff went from good to bad under these poor manager?
The investigation should focus on issues like this and establish a pattern.
I can just imagine the scramble of management in the city right now stuffing folders with doctored docements trying to justify the actions.
I completely agree with the other posters that heads in the city should roll. If Swift and Vargas are not dismissed immediately then we understand that this is the accepted culture at the city.
Having been a manager for many years I have seen and fired many people like these clods. It is a cold hard fact that happy employees make great employees.
Let's fix the problem and get back to the business running the city.

Posted By: John Zook. Potomac MD On: 4/14/2012

Title: Yeah right

Great the Mayor and a one Council member came out and indicate there will be an investigation. Two members out of five have publicly spoke out.
This mess has the same tone of the Town Center paver screw/cover up.
If I were on the Council I would be OUTRAGED that the city was getting negative press.
Let's see from the articles Ms. Williams retired, Mr. Baker retired and am I to asume that Ms Reitz retired also. It would then seem that all the mentioned people are over 50 years old. If Mr. Rose and others forced out of the city are over 50, then we can think of age discrimination.
Looks like the city has found the magic bullet to reduce the cost on the back of loyal long term employees.
Rockville should be ahamed of of iteslf!!!!!!

Posted By: OMG On: 4/13/2012

Title: OMG

I just cannot believe all of this irresponsible behavior from our city leaders. This must be a direct association with the former city manager Scott Ullery. Is that why he retired? Did he know something? Maybe The Sentinel should ask why he hired people like this.

Posted By: Thomas H. Mercer On: 4/12/2012

Title: A sad day for Rockville

Now that the Mayor and council indicate they will investigate the real question is how much this investigation will cost the city? The city clearly via the HR department cannot conduct the investigation. Can the city attorney as an officer of the court conduct the investigation?
It seems to me that is multiple employees make the same claim and this is vetted by the newspaper this sould be a great start in showing a pattern of abuse in the city.
I commend the former city clerk, Mr. Baker and Mr. Rose for exposing what appears to be a corrupt abusive culture.
The city of Rockville may find out more abuse of employees and if so could possibly expose the city to many legal issues that will end up costing the city big money if these employees sue the city.
It is was me, I would not only file suit against he city but would go after mr. Ullery, Ms Kimbel, Carlos Vargas and the Director Susan Swift.
It appears from the reporting that most of these employees were in the same department that Swift manages (ABUSES)
As stated by another poster: CAN YOU SPELL CLASSACTION.
SUe the pants off the city and maybe they will change the nasty culture that has been allowed to fester like a cancer. Our tax dollars should be better spent!

Posted By: Concerned business owner in the City On: 4/12/2012

Title: Harassment

I would hate to work for the City of Rockville. No wonder when you visit Ciity Hall there are no older workers to be seen. Now I understand why! Seems to me that the City has been harassing the older workers into retirement or worse. Seriously give it a try.
Call City Hall and try to get a correct answer. You are transfered around the city and even worse the answers you get change like the weather.
I suggest that there has been a well thought out plan to rid the city of older more expierenced workers. Well done! The city has shown that you can violate HIPPA laws, spew racial comments mistreat employees, purge files. All this while the directors, assistant city manager and the city manager who retired rake in big bucks. Must have been a real sweet deal Mr. Ullery... being able to retire from Rockville after only a few years in office.
I think that it's time to find out how sweet the honey pot is in Rockville for the upper staff like the city manager. I seem to remember that his salery was over 190K.
Here is a solution to the problem in Rockville..... throw the top bums out and get people in the City who know how to manage. Hey there is a huge cost saving to the tax payers.
If I ran my business like the city I would be in jail and bankrupt after all the legal action.
Thank God I do not live in the City of Rockville!!!!!

Posted By: Tom M On: 4/12/2012

Title: Heads should roll in City Management!

This seems to only get worse for the City of Rockville. I have resided in the City for just over 30 years and enjoyed the small town feeling that I used to receive when visiting the City to pay bill or speak to an employee about a service.
Years ago when I constructed my deck on the back of my house I obtained a permit from the city. I to this date remember the two city inspectors a Mr. Sines and a Mr. Baker who were very helpful in guiding me through the construction. I am not a builder and clearly these two inspectors had extensive knowledge of the construction process. I specifically remember Mr. Baker because he failed me for the construction of my stairs. Mr. Baker took the time to actually show me how to measure and cut the lumber that made up the stairs. Now that was service above and beyond.
As a citizen this mistreatment of city staff must not be allowed! I really wonder since this has aparently been going on for some time now if the City of Rockville can be trusted to investigate itself.
It is great that the Mayor and Council seem upset about these claims from former employees, however, I suggest that the State or some outside agency investigate these claims by employees.
When one person complains one could possibly say that the person is just upset, but to have multiple staff all state the same issues to m e sounds like a corrupt management system at work. Racial complaints, removal of employee files, evaluations mot completed and the list goes on.
I suggest that the former City manager is to blame for this mess. It also seems to me that the current acting city manager needs to step up to the plate and fire some city staff.
Can you imagine being Mr Rose and having to come to work and have a staff person make racial comments and then report those comments to HR only to find out they did not take action.
If I was in charge these persons would have been fired. Mr Vargas, the acting City manager, the responsible supervisors and the manger Swift should all be looking for a new place of employment.
You know what they say: You can put lipstick on a pig but it still is a pig. Enough with t he sweeping the dirt under the rug and fire thyese staff and clean house of these bad managers.
I wonder if these is more dirt being found under the city rug?


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