Public works director put on leave after DWI charge

December 18, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael A. Fletcher contributed to this article.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke relieved Public Works Director George G. Balog of his duties yesterday, within hours after Mr. Balog was charged with drunken driving while operating a city-owned car.

Mr. Balog, 51, one of the mayor's key Cabinet members, will continue to draw his $75,000-a-year salary, but he was given a leave of absence until he completes an alcohol treatment program in a residential facility, Mr. Schmoke said.

"I decided it would be in the best interest of the department and of Mr. Balog for him to take a leave of absence," Mr. Schmoke said. "I will hold off on any final decision until after he has completed the treatment program and resolved the legal issues."

Mr. Balog, after failing a field sobriety test, was arrested early yesterday morning in Rosedale by Baltimore County police, who found six empty Coors beer cans in the city-owned 1989 Chevrolet Caprice he was driving, police said. He later failed a breath test administered at the White Marsh Station, police said.

Until Mr. Balog's fate is ultimately decided, Deputy Public Works Director George L. Winfield, 49, will serve as the acting department head, said Clinton R. Coleman, the mayor's press secretary. Mr. Winfield has worked for the department nearly 20 years, the press secretary said.

Mr. Coleman said "the mayor became aware several months ago that Mr. Balog had a problem with alcohol and began working with him."

Mr. Schmoke acknowledged that Mr. Balog had sought outpatient treatment before, had completed the program and "seemed to be doing better."

But, the mayor said, "this incident is the sign of a serious setback, and it suggests to me that he needs more intensive treatment.

"At no time over the past six months have I felt that this problem has impaired his decision-making during the day," Mr. Schmoke said of Mr. Balog -- who was appointed in 1987 to oversee one of the city's largest departments, which recently became larger after its merger with the Department of Transportation.

Mr. Balog, a 23-year city employee, also is one of five members of the Board of Estimates -- made up of the mayor, comptroller, City Council president, city solicitor and public works director -- which must approve contracts and other city business.

"I'm disappointed, though I must say, I saw it as a blessing in

disguise," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Balog was driving westbound on Pulaski Highway near Chesaco Avenue about 1:50 a.m. yesterday, when a Baltimore County police officer assigned to the department's special drunken-driving task force first spotted him, said police spokesman E. Jay Miller.

The officer, in an unmarked vehicle, followed Mr. Balog as he turned onto Rosedale Avenue and observed the vehicle "weave badly onto the shoulder several times" and cross the center line," Mr. Miller said.

The officer followed him for more than a mile before stopping Mr. Balog on Chesaco Avenue at the Interstate 95 overpass, he said.

When the officer pulled Mr. Balog over, he detected the odor of alcohol and found the six beer cans, Mr. Miller said.

After Mr. Balog failed the field sobriety tests, he was arrested, put in handcuffs and taken to White Marsh Station, he said.

Mr. Balog tested higher than the 0.10 blood-alcohol concentration limit for a charge of driving while intoxicated, Mr. Miller said, but he declined to disclose the level. Mr. Balog, who lives in the 5800 block of Plumer Ave., was charged with driving while intoxicated and failing to keep within a designated lane.

Mr. Balog was released at about 4 a.m., when a friend came to the station to pick him up.

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