Testimony bolsters whistle-blowers' claim

City engineers allege 3 officials retaliated for critical comments

May 18, 2000|By Gail Gibson | Gail Gibson,SUN STAFF

The former head of Baltimore's Public Works Department heaped blame on two employees who publicly questioned a city contract and would let out a "string of expletives" when he talked about their cooperation with a federal investigation, a top press aide testified yesterday.

George G. Balog "blamed Jeanne Robinson and Dave [Marc] for a wide range of things, it seemed," Kurt Kocher, the department's spokesman, testified during the two employees' whistle-blower trial in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

"It was monotonous. It was obsessive," said Kocher, who was Balog's top press aide beginning in 1996 and who remained Public Works spokesman after Balog left city government this year.

Kocher's testimony came on the third day of the federal civil trial against Balog and former Public Works officials Leonard H. Addison and Robert F. Guston. Robinson and Marc, both city engineers, claim that the three men punished them for exercising their First Amendment free speech rights.

In December 1995, Robinson and Marc criticized a landfill-repair contract that Balog had backed at a city Board of Estimates meeting. They also later cooperated with an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office. For speaking out, Robinson and Marc allege, they suffered swift retaliation.

Robinson, then an acting division chief in the Bureau of Solid Waste, said her staff was cut from 60 employees to three and her division's annual budget slashed from $17 million to $150,000.

Marc testified yesterday that he was relegated to menial tasks and denied use of a laptop computer and a city-owned car, which he said was later assigned to an employee who did not have a driver's license.

The defendants have denied wrongdoing and noted that neither Robinson nor Marc lost their jobs or had their pay cut. Defense attorneys argued this week that the two workers were disgruntled employees who disagreed with management decisions.

Asked by attorney Howard J. Schulman whether he had heard Balog discuss the two workers and the FBI, Kocher said, "It would just be sort of a string of expletives."

Robinson and Marc, whose case is expected to conclude this morning, have testified that they were reluctant to raise their concerns about work at the Quarantine Landfill. After they did, both said, they were denied promotions, shunned by colleagues and lost opportunities for extra pay.

Co-workers testified that they were told to stay away from Robinson and Marc. Yesterday, city worker Gail Desch backed up testimony from Robinson that Public Works employee Anthony DeMarco, Balog's bodyguard and chauffeur, regularly trailed Robinson. DeMarco did not return phone calls seeking comment.

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