Ex-parks chief, fired in July, still on city payroll

Mayor also lets Billups live free at Hilltop House

September 11, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Despite having fired him two months ago, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is keeping former parks director Marvin F. Billups Jr. on the city payroll and letting him live rent-free in a city-owned house until he finds another job.

The mayor said that the informal, open-ended arrangement was a "severance package of sorts" meant to cushion the blow of the firing July 2 of Billups, who continues to receive his $99,800 salary.

Such temporary assistance is not uncommon for high-ranking executives terminated from jobs in private industry, O'Malley said.

Although O'Malley fired Billups for poor performance, the mayor now says he might find Billups a different, permanent job with the city.

O'Malley has been exploring the possibility of hiring Billups to help run the Police Athletic League, a program in which police officers and others provide recreation and mentoring for city youths.

"I think that there may be somewhere else in city government that might be a better fit for Mr. Billups," O'Malley said.

If Billups lands another job with the city, he would continue living in the house at Clifton Park Golf Course. But the athletic league job is uncertain, and Billups might leave the city to pursue a job elsewhere, O'Malley said.

"I think it would be unfair to move someone out [of their home] and off the payroll without allowing some time so he can explore his possibilities inside and outside the government," O'Malley said.

Open-ended deal

The arrangement could end within the next few days or could last longer, depending on how long it takes for Billups to find a new job, the mayor said.

Joan Pratt, the city's comptroller, said that the mayor should have specified an end date to the benefits in a written agreement, and submitted the agreement to the city's Board of Estimates for approval.

Pratt also said Billups should sign a lease to continue living in the house, because he's no longer working as parks director.

The lease should be approved by the board, she said.

"How long will this last? Because we already have another acting parks director on the job," Pratt said. "The terms of this arrangement should have been written down and brought before the board."

Not even the mayor receives free housing as a benefit of his job.

Administration officials have defended the continued paychecks to Billups by saying that he is advising Kimberley M. Amprey, whom O'Malley named as acting parks director when he fired Billups.

"Mr. Billups is advising the department in the transition process, on call, and consulting with Kim Amprey and other park people," said city personnel director Elliott L. Wheelan Jr.

But Amprey said she is not meeting with or receiving advice from Billups - raising the question of what work, if any, Billups is performing for his paychecks. Billups could not be reached for comment.

"I've never met with him" since taking over as parks director, Amprey said. "He's only been here a few times to return things or give me documents. But I know he is available to me if I need him."

After being fired, Billups used 22 days of vacation time and five days of personal time. But to cover the past month, O'Malley plans to approve another four weeks of pay for Billups.

The mayor will approve more if it takes longer for Billups to land a job, city officials said.

City Council President Sheila Dixon said past administrations have made similar deals to help ease terminated officials into other city jobs. But she added that she had concerns about the open-ended pay and free rent, saying a termination date is necessary.

`How we waste money'

"Good God, how we waste money," said Bernard C. "Jack" Young, chairman of the City Council's subcommittee on recreation and parks. "I thought [Billups] was gone."

The Hilltop House, at 2501 Rose St. on the top of a rise overlooking the city's Clifton Park Golf Course, is a 2 1/2 -story wooden house with decorative woodwork and a wraparound porch. It has often been used as a home by park directors.

The house's green paint is peeling, hinting at the neglect that afflicts many of the 16 mansions and park houses scattered throughout the city's sprawling, 6,500-acre park system.

O'Malley said Billups should continue living in the Hilltop House so that it's not vacant, which might invite vandalism.

"We're glad he's keeping an eye on it," said O'Malley.

Slow to make changes

The mayor hired Billups in October 2000 to run the city's parks department, asking him to move to the city from Prince George's County, where he was chief of maintenance for that county's parks department.

On July 3, O'Malley said he was firing Billups because he wasn't working fast enough to overhaul the department and clean up the parks.

"We just needed much more massive change in the department overall, in particular with maintenance issues," O'Malley said July 3.

O'Malley added at the time that Billups "will be available to us and be helping us in the transition for next few weeks or so."

Yesterday, O'Malley said: "He's a nice man. ... The fact that he's on the payroll for a few months [after his dismissal], I don't think anybody in private industry would object to that. ... He's not there indefinitely."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.