The Civil Service Commission has ordered the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications to rehire its former $48,800-a-year chief of media technical services, after a hearing officer concluded that officials bungled the investigation that prompted the manager's firing six months ago.
William Dionne, who had worked with the city since 1985, was abruptly fired from his post last October. City officials accused him of having been at home when he should have been at work.
The reinstatement order, issued Wednesday, entitles Dionne to more than $25,000 in back pay, although his legal fees total almost $10,000, said Kathleen M. Cahill, the attorney who handled his case. Cahill said that civil service rules do not call for losing parties to pay legal fees. She said Dionne should be rehired shortly.
Dionne's was fired after city auditors took the extraordinary step of following him for three days. The surveillance of Dionne, whose job involved checking on cable television installation and service complaints around the city, was requested by Joyce Jefferson Daniels, director of the cable television office, according to a report on the case.
Several days after the auditors completed their surveillance, Daniels summoned Dionne to a brief meeting and fired him. She did not outline the charges against Dionne or offer him an opportunity to rebut them, the hearing officer's report says.
"The most striking aspect of this case is the total absence of any semblance of due process in the director's decision-making leading to the appellant's termination," wrote hearing officer Ronald A. Leahy. "Civil service rules are crystal clear, even to a casual reader, about the rights of an employee and the obligations of an appointing official in discharging an employee from the service."
During the investigation, city auditors said that Dionne -- who had served a three-day suspension from his job in 1989 for attendance abuse and misuse of a city vehicle -- was at home for what appeared to be extended lunch hours on two occasions. A third day, they said, he was out of the office not working for most of the day and asked another employee to falsify records so it would appear that he had been working.
Despite those apparent findings, the hearing officer said the investigators did not go far enough in documenting their observations. For instance, one day auditors followed Dionne's city truck to his home where it remained parked for what appeared to be an extended lunchtime. But, during the hearing, Dionne's wife said she had been driving the truck that day. And city investigators could not prove otherwise.
On another occasion, Dionne admits being home for an extended period of time, as alleged by investigators. But he said he was on the telephone much of that time with an official from United Cable of Baltimore -- a statement backed up at the hearing by that official. According to testimony, Dionne enjoyed the discretion to work from home under "unusual" circumstances.
On a third occasion, Dionne drove his city truck home about midday. But he said that he later left in his wife's car to continue his workday. Dionne and his wife said he had used her car because he wanted to have the brakes checked.
But city investigators, who observed the truck in the driveway all day, concluded that Dionne was home all afternoon -- an assertion that the hearing officer said was not proven by the city.
Daniels declined to comment on the case. But Dionne's lawyer said city investigators and other officials were overzealous in going after her client.
Said Cahill: "Their investigation was like playing a game of telephone with a really bad connection and people with maybe some ill will."