City ethics board to issue subpoenas in parking authority case

Conflict-of-interest case marks board's first use of subpoena powers

October 11, 2011|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore's Ethics Board plans to subpoena witnesses in a conflict-of-interest investigation centered on a parking authority employee, marking the first time the board has used that power, city officials said.

Ethics Board members said at their meeting Tuesday that they plan to issue subpoenas in advance of a December hearing involving a city agency and a security contractor.

Board chair Linda "Lu" Pierson declined to name the employee or agency involved, citing confidentiality rules. She said only that the city inspector general referred the case to the board.

But Bheti M. Woodberry, a parking authority employee who managed contracts for city-owned garages until she was suspended with pay in April, confirmed that she was the focus of the investigation.

Baltimore Inspector General David McClintock released a report in June saying that an unnamed employee of the quasi-public Baltimore City Parking Authority had "exerted influence" on garage owners to persuade them to hire a security firm owned by her then-boyfriend. The couple met when he was working for a security contractor that patrolled city garages.

Woodberry, who in June identified herself as the subject of McClintock's report, denied those allegations, saying that she had carried out the orders of her supervisors.

She said Ethics Board members informed her last month that the hearing would focus on two accusations from McClintock's report: that Woodberry had urged a garage owner to hire her now-husband's company and that she had arranged for that company to be paid more than others.

Woodberry said she has evidence to show that both allegations are untrue.

"I have information that shows that my superiors were the ones who dictated what the rates were going to be," she said. "Why do they keep saying it was me when I wasn't overseeing it?"

Pierson said the board has tentatively scheduled a hearing for Dec. 7 to determine whether the employee violated the ethics code. The board does not have the power to impose penalties, Pierson said, but passes on its findings to city agencies, which can fire the employee.

Avery Aisenstark, the city's director of legislative reference and the Ethics Board's director, said the case marked the first time the board has exercised its power to issue subpoenas.

"We don't want to be in a position of a witness not showing up," he said.

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