Monday, December 09, 2013 2:08 AM
Published on: Thursday, December 06, 2012
By Christa Puccio
ROCKVILLE – The City of Rockville refuses to release the Saul Ewing LLP investigation report to the public, according to the City’s council support specialist, and while the city manager claims 44 people were interviewed by the firm, former employees say they were never contacted.
“These records are being withheld pursuant to Section SG §10-615(1) Attorney-Client Privilege and Attorney Work Product, §10-618(f) (1), Investigatory Records, §10-618(b) Intra-Agency/Inter-Agency Memorandums and §10-616(i) Personnel Records,” said Louise Atkins, council support specialist for the City.
The City of Rockville and Saul Ewing LLP entered 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.
According to the Public Information Act, under Section SG §10-615(1), inspection is to be denied where the public records are “privileged or confidential by law”; under §10-618(f) inspection is to be denied for Records of investigation, intelligence information, security procedures, or investigatory files ; (1) §10-618(b) refers to records that reveal the deliberative process of other government officials may be protected under a broader common law deliberative process privilege that is encompassed by the inter and intra-agency; under §10-616(i), “personnel records” of an individual are protected.
Some individuals disagreed with the report not being released to the public and one wrote an email complaint to the Mayor and Council. “How is it possible that the Saul Ewing report is not released to the press on demand?” Christina Ginsberg, president of the Twinbrook Citizens Association, asked in the email. “Does the report even justify spending $190,000, especially the $100,000 amendment that was enacted after HR Director Carlos Vargas was allowed by senior staff to ‘disappear’ before being interviewed by Saul Ewing and without interviewing Scott Ullery at all as far as I can tell? At the very least, Saul Ewing should have examined in detail the Glenda Evans case and addressed how discrimination issues will be handled in the future and have interviewed all the senior management involved, even if they want to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights. The Glenda Evans case with its $40,000 plus payout clearly puts to the lie any explanation of the type ‘no problem here,’ so I hope there are substantive conclusions in this $190,000 report, not whitewash. I'm sorry, but refusing to release reports to the press does not inspire confidence in our City government. It's a sad, sad day for Rockville.”
A former councilmember also wrote her complaints to the Mayor and Council after receiving last week’s press release from the City. “As a former five-term councilmember, I find the results of this so-called investigation, hard to fathom,” wrote Anne Mahoney Robbins. “To put down another $90,000, after giving the Ewing firm, $100,000, is just plain wrong. Why would the [mayor and council] spend all this money? I hope that all five will claim ownership to this expense, and explain to the citizens, if you are satisfied with the results of the document. It was bad enough to spend the first $100,000, but then to add $90,000, did you ask the representative of the firm, how it was going, or did you just hand over the taxpayer money. And, I sincerely hope that the new city manager will not give a candy cotton response to the situation. I keep thinking about Tom Sawyer ‘whitewashing’ the fence; Mayor and Council, please explain yourself on the ‘investigation,’ and its huge taxpayer expense.”
A retired employee who spoke to the alleged mistreatment between management and employees of the City also wrote to the Mayor and Council. “Guess I will not bother with my MPIA request form,” wrote Charles Baker. “The city has a bad habit of not releasing information or delaying the release till the last minute. My last MPIA request was turned down by the city stating that the release of the contract and scope of the investigation could compromise the investigation. Well the investigation is over! Who has actually seen the investigation at the city other than the city manager? There is no reason not to release the investigation especially since Saul Ewing found no wrong doing by the city – Yeah right!”
According to the contract between the City and Saul Ewing, Saul Ewing agreed to conduct investigations of complaints made by former employees regarding the City of Rockville’s Department of Community Planning and Development Services and Department of Human Resources, but the original former employees who blew the whistle to The Sentinel say they were never contacted by Saul Ewing LLP during the investigation.
“Saul Ewing spoke with 44 people at all levels of the City Government,” said City Manager Barbara B. Matthews. “I hope you understand that I cannot comment on who was interviewed, or what was said in those interviews. The focus of the review was on current workplace issues so that the City could get advice and make any necessary improvements. All current employees were invited to speak confidentially to Saul Ewing in this effort. The complaints raised by former employees in The Sentinel were reviewed and considered by Saul Ewing as part of the overall review of current workplace issues.”
Saul Ewing did not return phone calls.
Matthews said the city will accept Saul Ewing’s recommendations.
“I plan to implement each of the recommendations that came out of the report,” said Matthews. “Right now, I am evaluating what we can do in the interim and what is more appropriate for a new Human Resources Director to work on. For example, we can do some research now into costs and what it will take to implement the recommendations, but I would like the new Human Resources Director to be the one to fully implement them. I deliberately held off on this important recruitment until we had the recommendations in hand. This gives me the opportunity to align the needs of the organization with the skills of the person we eventually hire. The hiring process will begin after the first of the year, and I expect it to take about 4-6 months. This is a critical position, so the recruitment will have to be done with a great deal of care.”
Posted By: Charles Baker On: 12/7/2012
Title: No Contact from Saul Ewing.
I have spoken with many former city employees and not a single one was contacted by Saul Ewing. In fact, one former employee even advised me that a call was placed to the Saul Ewing hotline number provided and never received a return call.
Many current city employees did not come forward for many reasons to include fear of retaliation by city officials.
What everyone has seen in the Sentinel articles is just a fraction of the issues in the city.
I wonder exactly how many senior managers have seen or been told information contained in the investigation?