Public works chiefs moved

Schmoke and director say shifts not related to overtime scandal

3 switch jobs, 1 removed

Critics say shuffling players won't help department's ills

April 16, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced yesterday a shake-up of Baltimore's Department of Public Works leaders, one month after revelations of a widening overtime scandal.

Schmoke accepted city Public Works Director George G. Balog's recommendation that three of the agency's top bureau chiefs switch jobs while a fourth be removed.

Under the restructuring, Robert F. Guston, chief of the department's Bureau of General Services, will work with the Housing Department on demolitions. A Public Works Department spokesman said yesterday that health concerns prompted Guston's reassignment.

Both Schmoke and Balog denied that the staff changes were related to the overtime investigation.

"The person we focused in on that was responsible for this latest issue was below the bureau chief level and basically abused the position of trust," Schmoke said. "We're trying to give [the bureau chiefs] an opportunity to broaden their experience and also bring some new ideas, fresh ideas to the individual bureaus."

Public works is the city's largest department, employing 6,000 workers who carry out functions ranging from trash collection to parking enforcement. The department's annual budget exceeds $500 million. The city's budget is $1.8 billion.

"It's not unusual to have periodic reorganization," Department of Public Works spokesman Kurt L. Kocher said of the changes. "It keeps ideas fresh."

The action occurs about four weeks after state prosecutors raided the office of public works supervisor Charlie Payne as part of an investigation into possible overtime fraud.

The department suspended Payne without pay. Payne, a 20-year employee who was acting chief of the city's water and wastewater treatment maintenance division, denies any wrongdoing and suggests he is a department "scapegoat."

Schmoke said he expects action against up to 10 more employees involved in the scandal.

Details under wraps

Details of the investigation have been kept under wraps, as state public records laws allow the department to withhold information on employee matters. Among the allegations, several sources familiar with the inquiry said, is that a select group of water and wastewater department workers each earned up to $60,000 extra with fraudulent overtime last year in return for kickbacks to the supervisor.

Although the full extent of the possible fraud is unknown, one backhoe operator allegedly earned $90,000 with overtime through the scheme. Schmoke makes $95,000 a year as mayor.

A review of city overtime spending in the water and wastewater division by The Sun recently showed a $452,000 increase over the past two years. After receiving anonymous letters about the alleged fraud, Schmoke contacted State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli's office, which had already begun an investigation.

A year ago, eight water and wastewater employees were suspended amid allegations by the department that they stole up to $1 million of city materials such as bricks and wood for personal use. The city failed to prove the charges and the unnamed employees either retired or returned to work, city union leaders said.

New positions

Under yesterday's announced reshuffling, Deputy Director Dave Montgomery, who supervised the water and wastewater division, will handle transportation. Transportation Bureau Chief J. Keith Scroggins will oversee general services. Leonard Addison will take over water and wastewater, while Joseph Kolodsziejeski, a solid waste supervisor, will continue to lead that bureau.

Guston, who is leaving general services for the Housing Department post, has been one of several subjects of a four-year FBI investigation into allegations that the Public Works Department steered contracts to favored companies.

The federal inquiry was launched after two midlevel public works managers, Jeanne Robinson and David Marc, complained to city officials about the handling of a landfill leachate pond. The two later filed a civil suit against department directors and the city, alleging that they were demoted for complaining.

The two allege that Balog and top department leaders kept a list of favored contractors who contributed to Schmoke's campaigns and awarded them city contracts.

Balog and Guston have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. Schmoke also has said he has no knowledge of the contractors. Depositions in the suit are being conducted.

`Musical chairs'

Department critics called the shuffling of managers too little, too late. Southeast Baltimore Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo questioned the rearrangement.

"How's it going to change anything moving the players around?" he said. "They'll still be making the same salaries. To me, a shake-up is moving old players around and putting new players in."

Department bureau chiefs earn $71,700. As deputy director, Montgomery makes $83,000. Balog, who earns $113,000, said yesterday the reorganization will benefit the department.

"I've been criticized for this, but I believe in bringing in people that know the department," Balog said. "I'm excited. We're changing something."

Pub Date: 4/16/99

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