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Rockville Citizens Demand Action

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Published on: Thursday, April 11, 2013

By Holden Wilen

ROCKVILLE – A group of residents are asking their elected officials to take a more active role in the welfare of the city in light of the lack of action taken by the city’s government to fix personnel problems that led to a $190,000 investigation.

The city hired an outside law firm, Saul Ewing, LLP, to conduct an internal review of Rockville’s personnel policies and procedures on May 4, 2012, after five former employees of the city alleged the city management was guilty of discrimination, racism, tampering of employee personnel files and more. Only City Manager Barbara B. Matthews, City Attorney Debra Yerg Daniel and Senior Assistant City Attorney Cynthia Walters have seen the report.

Steve VanGrack, a former Rockville mayor, said administrative responsibilities for running the city fall to the city manager, but when there is a problem with city employees that affects the city manager and the city attorney, someone else needs to be involved in correcting the problems.

“There needs to be some mayor and council review of this report because it is so incredibly important,” VanGrack said. “This is a report for which they spent $200,000. It is a report which deals one of the most important functions that the mayor and council provide which are the services of the city employees. When there is call into question by several city employees into what is going on the mayor and council absolutely have to come in and find out what is going on.”

Councilmember Tom Moore said he does not think human resources functions are a part of the mayor’s or council’s jurisdiction and it would be inappropriate for him to look at investigatory files. The mayor and council were involved, he said, when they agreed to pay Saul Ewing to proceed with the investigation and later received the firm’s recommendations.

Moore said he would not want to look through the pages of the investigation, even if he could, because he just wanted to know what the conclusion was.

On the other hand, Councilmember Bridget Donnell Newton said while she does not need to see the details of the report, she thinks it would be good for the mayor and council as a policy-making body to be able to view the Saul Ewing report in order to make more informed decisions.

“Here we are about to create a new policy manual, but how do we know what policies need to be in place when we are not sure which ones were being followed or not being followed,” Newton said. “It is hard to learn from your mistakes if you do not know what the right answer is.”

There is not enough cooperation among the mayor and council to get to a point where they would agree to sit down and look at a redacted version of the report, Newton said. The situation is “dysfunctional” and not healthy for the city staff, she said, and the discussion taking place in the community is not good.

County resident Andrea Bernardo, the former campaign manager for former Councilwoman Anne Robbins, said that if the mayor and council will not look at the report, the city should have an independent third party, individual or committee look at the report on behalf of the mayor and council.

The city has many boards and commissions made up of citizen volunteers, Bernardo said, and she thinks the city should create an ad-hoc commission to view the Saul Ewing report.

One problem with having a commission look at the report, Moore said, is it would be a violation of the privacy of the employees who spoke up in the investigation. If the report is redacted, he said, so much information would have to be taken out there would be nothing left.

“I find [Moore’s reason] bizarre,” Bernardo said. “He does not know because he has not read it. He may be right, but he does not know that because he has not read it. If he read it and reached that conclusion then it would be a win-win because it would not have to be released to the public because the mayor and council would have read it.”

Moore said a commission is unnecessary because the mayor and council already paid Saul Ewing to be an independent third party that has no vested interest in the issues. Additionally, Moore said the city attorney is paid to handle the situation.

For Bernardo, the main issue is transparency. There is an inherent conflict of interest, she said, when the people who are in charge of fixing problems are the ones who caused the problems. Though she has been an advocate for the city attorney, Bernardo said there may have been allegations against the city attorney’s office.

There are conflicts of interest with the city manager’s office too, Bernardo said, because even though Matthews was not the city manager at the time of the allegations, there could be something in the report that is detrimental to the way she wants to do business.

“It may or may not be true, but without the transparency, we just do not know,” Bernardo said.

Moore said Matthews was hired partly because of her human resources experience and he has full confidence in her to do her job.

The bottom line, VanGrack said, is he thinks the mayor and council should review the report in some way, shape or form and not rely solely on the recommendations of the city manager and the city attorney.

“There has to be some analysis other than the city manager and the city attorney to correct the problems which were caused under the domain of the city manager and the city attorney,” VanGrack said. “Are they to correct their own problems?  There must be somebody else to do that. I think the mayor and council should put it to a vote. Let’s see how many members of the mayor and council want an independent review and how many members of the mayor and council do not want an independent review.”

Reader Comments - 2 Total

captcha 2774b217fbfc4099b599ba43e516530d

Posted By: Concerned On: 4/15/2013

Title: Again

Posted the following on the 3/28/13 Rockville Still Hunts for Solutions article, but it was a late posting and probably not read, so decided to post it again as it also applies to this article.
Taxpayers’ Money Wasted
There is no justice. A year has passed and nothing has changed for City employees. Management still rules. Staff is still miserable. All the dirt has been swept under the carpet and it’s business as usual. The taxpayers wasted nearly $200,000 to give managers more power.
The investigation conducted by Saul Ewing was ordered by management and ONLY managers benefited from the taxpayers’ dollars. Think about it.
- The initial fee for Saul Ewing was $90,000, a contract extension was approved and the cost escalated to nearly $200,000. WHY?? Could it be that the interim report did not favor managers?
- Neither the scope of the Saul Ewing contract nor the investigative results/report is accessible. How convenient.
- How insane that the M&C cannot have access to any report they request. What else is being hidden from the M&C?
- Has anyone noticed the mass exodus of valuable employees? Years of knowledge walked out the door and lost forever.
- HR doesn’t exist for employees, but HR has to report to someone and “someone” allows HR to function without accountability or penalty.
- Updating the city’s personnel policies and procedures is intended to benefit management, not the employees.
City Hall should be renamed City Asylum. The remaining employees could retire on disability, allowing management to enhance their political power by hand picking their servants.

Posted By: Tbeartwo On: 4/12/2013

Title: Who Struck John?

Make that "a group of ANGRY, FEDUP city residents."


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