Public works legal fees grow

$520,000 to be spent in grand jury probe, suit by two managers

October 14, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore taxpayers will be forced to spend up to $520,000 to defend the city Public Works Department, which is being investigated by a federal grand jury and sued by two department managers.

The city Board of Estimates unanimously agreed yesterday to allocate $250,000 more in legal fees to defend against a civil lawsuit in which two managers said that they were demoted four years ago for exposing problems at a city landfill. The city contends the employees caused the problems.

The city is paying three outside attorneys to defend department administrators being investigated by a federal grand jury over allegations that they steered city contracts to mayoral campaign contributors in 1995.

The city has spent $273,337 to defend itself, department director George G. Balog and top aides Leonard H. Addison and Robert F. Guston.

The estimates board approved the additional money yesterday without comment.

Because the city is also named in the suit, it was forced to hire independent lawyers to represent the public works officials. Attorney Benjamin W. Hahn is representing Balog; Paul D. Shelton of Piper & Marbury is defending Addison; and H. Mark Stichel of Gohn, Hankey & Stichel is Guston's attorney.

The city and department leaders are accused of retaliation in the $1.5 million civil lawsuit by the two managers. Balog and his aides deny it, calling the employees "disgruntled."

City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson said yesterday that the city was forced to set aside more for legal expenses because of U.S. Circuit Judge Frederic N. Smalkin's ruling last week that the civil lawsuit should go to trial.

Public works managers David Marc and Jeanne Robinson say their bosses punished them for criticizing repairs to Baltimore's Quarantine Landfill in 1995. Robinson says her supervisors cut her staff from 60 employees to three and slashed her bureau's annual budget from $17 million to $150,000, according to court records. The two also say they were denied opportunities for promotions and given menial tasks after speaking out.

Robinson, the acting division chief of the Bureau of Solid Waste Engineering, and Marc, her assistant chief, claimed that the city improperly awarded a landfill repair contract to L. F. Mahoney Inc. of Baltimore.

Mahoney received the contract as part of what Robinson and Marc claimed is a "contractor-friendly" policy in the city administration to reward companies that contributed to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 1995 re-election campaign. Marc and Robinson produced campaign contribution records that they say show the department raised more than $500,000 in contributions from companies doing business with the city.

Balog, Schmoke and Mahoney officials dispute the contention, saying that contributions and city contracts were unrelated.

Balog blames Robinson and Marc for the dump's problems and has said they failed to follow orders to fill in a pond that was used to catch materials leaching from the landfill.

Robinson and Marc have testified at hearings before the estimates board and said they were interviewed by the FBI and U.S. attorney's office, which are investigating the alleged contract steering. Guston testified before the grand jury last week, according to one City Hall source close to the investigation.

A three-member 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in Richmond, Va., ruled in November that the individual officials could be held liable for any wrongdoing. In another matter, the estimates board postponed approving a $650,000 city loan for a 99-unit senior housing project. A partnership that includes the Waldorf School plans to build the $7.6 million Coldspring New Town on a former city school site in the 4800 block of Tamarind Road.

City Real Estate Officer Anthony J. Ambridge objected to the loan, saying the city should share in the $1 million in profits the project is expected to generate. The city sold the site to Waldorf for $1.

Pub Date: 10/14/99

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