Thursday, December 12, 2013 7:03 PM
Published on: Thursday, May 02, 2013
By Holden Wilen
ROCKVILLE –City Council member John Hall made the latest proposal to address employee problems suggesting at the mayor and council meeting Monday all city employees receive a two-percent pay increase in the fiscal year 2014 budget.
The proposal was during Hall’s presentation of his 12-point plan to deal with the budget, and the pay raise received unanimous support from Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio and the other council members. City Manager Barbara Matthews recommended a 1.75 percent pay increase when she first presented the budget.
This is the latest move as the council continues to deal with fallout from employees who claim the city is steam rolling them and ignoring their needs. Those complaints led to an outside investigation by Saul Ewing LLC last year following a year-long investigation by The Sentinel where employees accused city supervisors of a wide variety of discrimination and harassment charges.
The results of that investigation were made available to city staff last year and sealed by the city attorney. Members of the city council have yet to see it.
Experts say the Mayor and City Council may view the Saul Ewing report and at least one expert said she thinks it is odd the Mayor and Council will not view a report for which they paid $190,000.
Citizens and city employees have made their desire clear to have elected officials view the Saul Ewing report, which came as the result an investigation the Mayor and Council paid the law firm to complete, but the mayor and members of the council have said personnel matters are the responsibility of city manager Barbara Matthews and they are not authorized to view the report.
Nancy Modesitt, an assistant professor of law at the School of Law at the University of Baltimore said it is strange the governing body would spend taxpayer money and not read the report.
“Even when you have privacy protections for personnel they are not absolute,” Modesitt said. “The way that it works is there has to be some legitimate reason that someone would need to receive that information within the government system. The point is that it is not supposed to be released to people who are not supposed to access it, who do not have authorization. That seems very odd to me that they extend it to that level. That does not make any sense to me.”
Modesitt said when dealing with privacy rights and personnel information it is important to be careful and there should be limitations in place. Additionally she said it is normal for a mayor and council to have minimal hands-on responsibility with the personnel system. However, she said if the mayor and council are hiding behind personnel privacy then she would be surprised.
“I would be shocked to find out that they are not allowed to access it for that reason,” Modesitt said. “To me that sounds more like it is a political thing that they do not want to have anything to do with it, that they are saying no we can’t see it rather than a legitimate reason.”
From the perspective of the mayor and council approved the use of the money for the investigation and report, Modesitt said they should be able to read the report to know if the money was appropriately spent or not.
Kenneth Sigman, an attorney in Takoma Park, said it is appropriate for Matthews and city attorney Debra Yerg Daniel to read the report and that personnel responsibilities fall to them because of an effort to depoliticize personnel matters. However, Sigman said the council does have the responsibility of supervising and monitoring Matthews’ performance and a time might come when the members of the council should look at the report to determine if Matthews responded correctly.
“I am not aware of any prohibition upon the council (viewing the report) being they are in the chain of command,” Sigman said. “The supervisor manages the employees; the council supervises the city manager. Certainly the council could not disclose personnel information to others.”
Steve VanGrack, chair of the Charter Review Commission, has been vocal about his desire for the mayor and council to read the report but he said whether or not the mayor and council should read the report is not an issue the city’s charter clearly addresses.
Under the current city charter, Matthews is the chief executive officer. According to the charter two of her duties are to:
• Make investigation into the affairs of the City or any department or division thereof;
• Investigate all complaints in relation to all matters concerning the administration of the government of the City, and in regard to service maintained by the public utilities in the City.”
According to the charter the powers of the mayor and council include:
• (Passing) all such ordinances not contrary to the Constitution and laws of the State of Maryland or this Charter as it may deem necessary for the good government of the City; for the protection and preservation of the City's property, rights, and privileges; for the preservation of peace and good order; for securing persons and property from violence, danger or destruction; and for the protection and promotion of the health, safety, comfort, convenience, welfare and happiness of the residents of the City and visitors thereto and sojourners therein.
VanGrack said for good government there needs to be a solid, trusting relationship between the mayor and council and the city employees, and that is why he thinks the mayor and council should read the report.
Joe Jordan, a civic activist and member of the Charter Review Commission, said his understanding of the charter is Matthews runs the day-to-day operations of the city and the mayor and council are responsible for legislation. In this case, he said the mayor and council should read the report because it is above and beyond normal circumstances. Jordan said hiding behind the excuse that reading the report is unlawful is “a smokescreen.”
“They owe it to the public to read the report,” Jordan said.
Posted By: Thomas Mercer On: 5/9/2013
Title: The jokes keep getting worse
The joke is how the mayor and council just walk away from any responsibilty. The mayor was on the council while King Ullery rulled with an iron fist yet she just sat back.
The joke is not funny and it is high time someone pays for the abuses.
As reported it appears some have left like Vargas who allowed city employees rights to be abused, but others like Berg and Swift remain.
Come on Matthews...sleepy time is over and it is time to do the right thing and fire the remaining directors. A fresh group of leaders is needed to pull the city out of the sewer.
Posted By: Want the old City of Rockville back On: 5/8/2013
Title: Not Enough
2 Percent is better than nothing but it clearly is not enough. Area jurisdicitons (i.e. Montgomery, Gaithersburg, Frederick, Howard) are all getting more. In addition other areas have lifted the freeze on steps and in some cases are giving back-steps for the years the steps were frozen. The City of Rockville is and has been in good financial standing. They choose not invest in their employees rather they invest in CIP. Good people have left and unless things change, people will continue to leave.
Posted By: Tina Mercer On: 5/4/2013
Title: What a joke
So did anyone see county staff are getting a modest raise that is higher than the city? After hearing abiut the toxic working environment in the city offering a 2% COLA is a joke. The new city manager who brings in a huge salary offers 1.75%. Clearly she is not going to fight for the workers who suffered at the hands of Ullery, Vargas, Berg, Kimbal Swift and others mentioned in the series of articles that I have followed for over a year. Rockville is broken and the new cith manager has just.continued to allow the ship to sink.
Who cares about the city staff? Well this resident still cares and will continue to sound off against this less than great two bit city.
Posted By: Employee X On: 5/2/2013
Well at last we get a small pay raise. However, the rank and file is far behind the cost of living increases to include the huge increase in health care coverage.
Thank you Mayor and Council member Hall.
Barb maybe you should reach out to the employees in city hall and not hide on your office ????
When are you going to fire the rest of the abusive supervisors?