Continuing his theme of hiring former city government rebels to lead his departments, Mayor Martin O'Malley will announce today that former city Department of Public Works administrator George L. Winfield will return as public works director.
Winfield emerged as the selection over the weekend from a three-person field of finalists that included Baltimore County Environmental Protection and Resource Director George Perdikakis, O'Malley said yesterday.
The third candidate had asked O'Malley that her name not be made public unless she was selected.
The 56-year-old Winfield, who works with the Maryland Department of the Environment, will return to the public works front office next to City Hall, which he left a little over three years ago after being laid off over personal differences with department leaders.
Yesterday, O'Malley called the selection of Winfield a "tough call" over Perdikakis, a well-respected former transportation administrator in public works under former Mayor William Donald Schaefer. Until late last week, Perdikakis, considered the politically popular choice in the city's Greek community, was considered the leading candidate.
"[Winfield] just strikes me as a very decent, capable, honest man who seems to really have a great deal of pride in the Department of Public Works," O'Malley said of his new chief. "He has a real passion for making the city a cleaner place."
Reached at home last night, Winfield said he was excited to return to a department he worked in for 23 years.
"It's a challenge that, with a leader like Martin O'Malley, will be a rewarding opportunity to turn the city around," Winfield said.
Last week, O'Malley appointed Baltimore Police Col. Ronald L. Daniel as police commissioner. The 26-year department veteran was exiled to a little-known City Hall grant-writing office two years ago after challenging former city Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.
Winfield served as the Public Works Department's director of the Bureau of General Services for eight years under Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. During his 1996 dismissal, Winfield blamed "personal" problems with Public Works Director George G. Balog for his release.
Balog, who completed the final day of a 31-year city career yesterday, called the ouster of Winfield -- the highest ranking of nine managers dismissed -- part of a budget move that saved the city $680,000.
Public works investigations
Winfield may have to start the city cleanup within his own department. The city's largest agency with 6,000 employees and a $500 million budget is the focus of two investigations by state and federal law enforcement.
The FBI began a federal grand jury probe four years ago after current and former employees alleged that department administrators steered lucrative public works contracts to contributors in Schmoke's 1995 campaign. Schmoke and Balog denied the allegations, calling the workers disgruntled.
Two public works managers, David Marc and Jeanne Robinson, filed a civil suit against the department, claiming they were retaliated against for bringing problems at a city landfill to light. City taxpayers have spent $350,000 for attorneys and outside lawyers hired to defend public works administrators in the criminal and civil actions.
Although federal authorities have not taken any action against department leaders, two sources close to the probe said recently that the focus has turned to former department administrator Robert F. Guston. Guston replaced Winfield as the director of the city's Bureau of General Services in 1996.
Guston, who represents the Public Works Department in dealings with the city housing authority, has denied any wrongdoing under oath in court depositions on the matters.
Last month, an audit released by City Comptroller Joan M. Pratt showed that 23 public works employees doubled their salaries last year in overtime. The audit concluded that department supervisors failed to adequately monitor $15.5 million in overtime spending. State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli is conducting a criminal probe into possible overtime abuses.
Winfield's first order of business will be trying to get a handle on changes in the department structure since he left, he said.
"I'm glad to have the opportunity to come back and put forth my ideas, to try to restore what has deteriorated for the last 12 years," he said.
Word of Winfield's impending appointment yesterday delighted supporters. Ken Strong, a former public works employee who served on O'Malley's transition team on the issue, called Winfield the right choice to reform the department.
"There are a lot of inefficiencies and the dollars in public works can work harder for taxpayers," said Strong, also a former department critic. "[Winfield] is among the most decent and honest people that I've ever worked with in city government."
State Sen. Joan Carter Conway also rejoiced at the news of O'Malley's offer of the job and Winfield's acceptance.