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Rockville partially releases investigation contract

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Published on: Thursday, June 28, 2012

By Christa Puccio

ROCKVILLE – The City of Rockville released a redacted copy of the investigation contract with Saul Ewing LLP after exceeding the Maryland Public Information Act’s (MPIA) “time for response” 30 days deadline.

“The contract requested by the Sentinel relates to sensitive personnel matters and necessitated careful review,” said Marylou Berg, communications manager for the City of Rockville.  “The City believes it has acted in full compliance with the MPIA in fulfilling your request.”

In the redacted contract released, the city omitted how many complaints by former city employees will be investigated, which departments besides the Department of Community Planning and Development and the Department of Human Resources that will be investigated, information on the current employee complaints, the methods Saul Ewing LLP will use to investigate and all findings of the investigation.

“The City is withholding portions of Exhibit A, numbers 2 and 3 to the Contract, in accordance with SG §10-618(f) as records of investigation,” said Louise Atkins, council support specialist for the City.  “These records reveal the strategy and methodology that would be used to conduct the investigation and the release of this information may prejudice the investigation and isn’t in the public interest. These records also reveal details regarding the product of the investigation which may prejudice the investigation if made available to the public. You may seek judicial review of the City’s decision, pursuant to SG §10-623.”

According to the contract, the agreement between Saul Ewing LLP and the City will be effective through Aug. 15, 2012.  Saul Ewing LLP also agreed to hold all material, documents and information related to the services performed in “this agreement” in strictest confidence and release it only as directed by the city attorney.

Atkins confirmed that the City of Rockville received the MPIA request for the contract on May 10, 2012 and partially fulfilled the request on June 13, 2012, 34 days later.

According to the MPIA, Chapter 4, Request Procedures, Section B Time for Response, “If a record is found to be responsive to a request and is recognized to be open to inspection, it must be produced ‘immediately’ after receipt of the written request. An additional reasonable period ‘not to exceed 30 days’ is available only where the additional period of time is required to retrieve the records and assess their status under the PIA.  A custodian should not wait the full 30 days to allow or deny access to a record if that amount of time is not needed to respond.”

Charlie Baker, a retired chief codes inspector for the City, said late responses from Rockville are “typical.”  “Any time that I have asked for any information through the MPIA request, the city has dragged their feet,” said Baker.  “It’s typical City of Rockville in that this is something that is very easy for them to produce and my feeling at the time was they had this contract and didn’t have to go digging for it.  The city is playing their games and will wait the 30 days and will wait till the last minute to send something in.  This time I said I read the law and the law says ‘immediately.’  Immediately doesn’t mean weeks down the road, and that’s why I sent the second email and also copied the attorney general’s office.”

Atkins acknowledged that Baker requested the Saul Ewing contract on May 25, 2012.  On June 12, 2012, Baker wrote another email to Atkins requesting the release of the contract.  “I find it unfortunate that the city now places me in the position of notifying the States Attorney’s office relating to the standard operating policy of the city dragging out all requests made under the act,” wrote Baker.  “I must now demand the immediate release of the requested document in accordance with state law.”

 Atkins emailed the redacted contract to Baker on June 15, 2012, which was 21 days after his original request was made.  “What I ended up with was virtually nothing,” said Baker.  “It’s so redacted that nobody can even get a feel for what exactly these people are looking for.  Even the first part of the attachment, you can’t tell what parts of the complaints they’ll actually investigate.  They’re going to look into it, but what’s the scope of that?  There’s apparently something there that they’re trying to cover up that they don’t want people to know about.”

According to Berg, the City doesn’t have to disclose why certain parts of a request are not fulfilled.  “When the City responds to MPIA requests, decisions to withhold records or to redact portions of records are made in consultation with the City Attorney’s Office and in accordance with the provisions of the state code,” said Berg.  “The specific details of any legal advice the City receives from its legal staff are privileged and as such not subject to disclosure.

“In this instance, the City has exercised its discretion to redact portions of the Saul Ewing contract in accordance with SG §10-618(f), as these records reveal the strategy and methodology that would be used to conduct the investigation. The release of this information may prejudice the investigation and is not in the public interest at this time. The City is committed to conducting a thorough investigation, with the aim of improving policies and procedures related to personnel matters, and does not want to interfere with that goal.”

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Reader Comments - 2 Total

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Posted By: Ashley On: 6/29/2012

Title: Joke is on us citizens

What did the city release? Sounds like they released that Saul Ewing will be conducting an investigation and the contract expires in August. Same old city same old lies and evasions.
Hey mayor! Is this what you consider to be TRANSPARENT?
I would forget asking Berg anything since she spins the information better than the White House press stooge.

Posted By: Outraged resident On: 6/28/2012

Title: Writing on the wall

The city recieved the MPIA request on 5-10-12. Interesting, Carlos Vargas met with Kimball and delivered his resignation letter on 5-11-12. I guess he saw the writing on the wall.
As a resident of Rockville i am outraged by everything i have read regarding the city's management. Why are my and so many other residents' tax dollars supporting these managers? I expected alot more from Rockville than to have managers abusing OUR staff.
This has been such an embarrasment for Rockville. To hear so many employees speaking out i can only come to the conclusion that these employees are telling the truth. We have read about racial remarks, evaluation mishandlings, managers screaming at thier employees, even having sex in the city hall parking lot. It seems that the managers in Rockville not only lack proper management skills but basic morals as well.
I hope that all the managers involved in this follow Mr. Vargas' lead and simply step down. The city needs no further embarrasement.


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