Three suspended over false 311 responses

Mayor says phony repairs compromised analysis

February 12, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday he has suspended three Department of Public Works employees responsible for what he called "phantom abatements" - submitting false reports of fixing problems phoned in to the city's 311 call center.

The phony repairs were revealed by a Sun investigation of the city's response to 50 reports of minor problems such as graffiti in public places, potholes, illegal dumping and broken streetlights.

City workers fixed 24 of the problems over two months, a 48 percent rate of repair. But more significant was that in almost a third of the cases in which laborers failed to remedy the problems (eight of 26), they falsely reported to their bosses that they had performed the work, according to photographs and observations by The Sun.

The bad information meant that the mayor's new CitiStat computerized data analysis system exaggerated the speed with which the city was solving these problems. The names of the workers, who were given one-day suspensions, were not released.

"It's part of management. We always have to check up on people," said O'Malley. "Whenever we come across these things [false reports], we take corrective action and try to use it as a learning tool."

The mayor and his staff use CitiStat computers as a radarlike system to identify problem areas and focus the city's limited resources. The foundation of the system is shaken when the information fed into the computers is false, O'Malley said.

Some of the false reports concerned the removal of appliances and junk blocking an alley behind the 1900 block of W. Franklin St., and removing graffiti from the wall of Highlandtown Middle School and a park bench in Mount Vernon.

Last week, city officials said four of the questionable reports were the responsibility of Baltimore Gas and Electric. But a BGE spokeswoman, Linda Foy, said yesterday that further investigation revealed that two of the four nonfunctioning lights in question were the city's responsibility, not BGE's.

The city transportation department "verified that these lights are working" on Jan. 28, according to a report given to The Sun by CitiStat officials last week. But visits and photographs by Sun reporters Jan. 27 and Jan. 30 showed that the same lights were still out, as they had been Nov. 25.

In another case, the utility may have fixed a different streetlight than the one reported to 311 because of a mix-up in communication, Foy said. And in another, utility workers said they fixed a streetlight, but it went off again because its fuse blew.

No BGE workers have been disciplined. "We have not found any evidence of any employees doing anything other than their jobs," Foy said.

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