Del. Weisengoff's son's job promotion prompts ethics complaint, call for probe

January 12, 1994|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

A union president representing workers in the state's pretrial release office has asked a legislative ethics committee to investigate whether the program's deputy director got his job with the influence of his father, a member of the House of Delegates.

Robert S. Weisengoff, 35, was promoted from the position of investigator to the No. 2 position in the pretrial release program in 1991 -- jumping over eight supervisors.

His father, Paul Weisengoff, is a Democratic member of the House of Delegates from the 47th District in South Baltimore.

In December, the Maryland Classified Employees Association's Local 37 filed a complaint with the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Legislative Ethics.

"[Robert] Weisengoff was an Investigator II until 18 months ago. His appointment to the current position that he fills represents a clear wrong in the eyes of the employees," said the complaint written by Kevin R. Hargrave Sr., president of the union local.

"It is clearly suspected that Delegate Weisengoff used the prestige of his position to cause a substantial gain for his son," Mr. Hargrave wrote.

The local's parent union has dissociated itself from the complaint.

In an interview, Mr. Hargrave said his local has no hard evidence that Mr. Weisengoff used his influence to help get his son promoted. But Mr. Hargrave and several employees in the pretrial release office who asked not to be identified said they find it odd that Robert Weisengoff was promoted above his own supervisors, some of whom have 20 years' experience with the program.

State Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a Baltimore Democrat and co-chairman of the ethics committee, declined to comment on the specifics of the complaint, which will be reviewed by the committee when the General Assembly convenes today.

Robert Weisengoff's supervisors, John Camou, director of pretrial release, and LaMont Flanagan, commissioner of the Baltimore City Detention Center, say Mr. Weisengoff got his promotion strictly on merit and without the help of his father.

"In my estimation and Mr. Camou's estimation, Mr. Weisengoff was the most qualified. He has an intimate knowledge of every aspect of the agency," Mr. Flanagan said.

Asked whether his father intervened in his behalf, Robert Weisengoff said, "I know he had no involvement." Efforts to TC reach his father were unsuccessful.

Mr. Hargrave noted that no one else was interviewed for the job because it was not advertised in newspapers or posted in the pretrial offices. Mr. Flanagan and Mr. Camou said they found it unnecessary to interview any other candidates.

"There are currently no supervisors in pretrial who match the talents of Robert Weisengoff," Mr. Flanagan said.

State regulations do not require advertising the deputy director's job, said Joseph Adler, deputy secretary of personnel.

Mr. Hargrave said that staff morale has plummeted since Mr. Weisengoff took the deputy director's job because he has made promotions based on favoritism rather than merit, and that staffers also have complained about harsh discipline.

Last week, after Mr. Weisengoff called the main office of the Maryland Classified Employees Association to inquire about the complaint, the parent union moved to dissociate itself from Mr. Hargrave's complaint.

"We here at MCEA have had no knowledge of any such complaint, have not been made aware of any and have not approved any request for ethical review," Frederick A. Blow, director of field services, said in a letter to a Sun reporter.

Mr. Weisengoff's salary jumped from $22,943 in 1991 -- before his promotion -- to $35,113 in 1993. He began working for the agency in 1986 as an investigator trainee, according to state personnel records.

The pretrial release program with 75 employees and a $2 million annual budget, screens people arrested for crimes in Baltimore and recommends whether judges should release them pending trial.

Mr. Flanagan said Mr. Weisengoff was a pretrial investigator before his promotion but was actually working in a position not under his job title that allowed him to scrutinize the entire pretrial program.

Mr. Weisengoff helped train other employees and completed an internal audit that criticized fellow investigators and supervisors, Flanagan said.

The audit cited problems in the way investigators evaluate the likelihood that criminals will flee the court system. It also criticized supervisors and investigators for failing to complete paperwork on those arrested, failing to lock up case files, having untidy offices and wearing T-shirts and tennis shoes to work.

The audit was dated June 1991. Four months later, Mr. Weisengoff was made acting deputy director.

"I was given this audit, which showed serious problems. I digested the audit and subsequently, on October 18, 1991, I hired [Mr. Weisengoff] as acting deputy director with the mandate to present a corrective plan to solve management, administrative and operational problems," Mr. Flanagan said. Mr. Weisengoff subsequently was made permanent deputy director.

Mr. Weisengoff said he thinks the complaint about his promotion was "sour grapes," prompted by his suspension in August of Mr. Hargrave, who works on the night shift as a pretrial investigator.

Mr. Weisengoff's predecessor as deputy director, William H. Martin Jr., said he was surprised to hear that Mr. Weisengoff had been given the job without the position's being advertised and without interviews of other candidates.

"I think there were a number of supervisors who had been with pretrial release for a long time, and a number were qualified," said Mr. Martin, now director of pretrial services in Montgomery County.

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