City justified in gambling raid

Our view: Union wrong to downplay workers' misconduct

January 31, 2012

If city workers and union officials think busting up a party in which municipal employees were drinking and gambling on the job is overzealous, then Baltimore could use a lot more zeal. The fact that the city inspector general's 2011 raid on a Department of Transportation facility has resulted in only one criminal conviction should not be taken as an indication that this was much ado about nothing or that the workers involved were somehow unfairly persecuted. City residents pay a lot of taxes to fund those workers' salaries, and they deserve to know that this kind of behavior will not be tolerated.

Here's what agents from Inspector General David McClintock's office found when, acting on a tip, they entered a maintenance shop on East Madison Street last March: A ring of workers was huddled over a pile of cash, watching while one of them appeared to be tossing dice. Cognac, fortified wine and beer were nearby. When they entered, the workers scooped up the cash and scrambled to get away. It was only then that police were called to the scene.

Thirteen people were taken to the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Center, but only one of them — Michael Flowers, who shoved one of the agents during the raid — was convicted. That isn't the right way to measure the worth of the endeavor. Given the chaos of the scene, it's easy to imagine that prosecutors would have difficulty amassing sufficient evidence about who was doing what to sustain cases in court. And furthermore, given the city's other problems, a craps game is surely not the state's attorney's highest priority.

What's important is that Mr. McClintock uncovered gross mismanagement and unprofessional behavior in a city government agency and put a stop to it. City officials believe the payday craps games had been going on in this department for years, but even the more innocent explanation those involved offered — that they were having a cookout — isn't exactly what taxpayers expect civil servants to be doing during work hours.

Furthermore, those involved — including the yard supervisor — have been held to account. Several people were fired or resigned as a result of the incident. Some temporary workers were let go, and other employees were suspended. The city's reaction to what Mr. McClintock's office discovered was not, as Glen Middleton, the head of the local unit of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, put it, "a huge mistake." It was a necessary response to what was evidently a dysfunctional work environment.

There's plenty of cynicism as it is among city residents about how hard municipal employees really work. Union officials do their members no favors by seeking to trivialize this incident. Rather than arguing about whether it was overkill to arrest workers who were caught in what clearly looked like an illegal act, they should be reinforcing the message that misconduct on the job cannot be tolerated. It may not be fair, but this kind of activity reflects badly not just on those who participated, and not just on the supervisors who looked the other way, but on all city employees.

As for Mr. McClintock and his staff, they should not be cowed or deterred in any way by the backlash over this raid. He has brought a new sense of urgency to the office since he was appointed by MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blaketwo years ago, and the number of tips he has received about potential inefficiency, waste and fraud in city government has increased accordingly. City residents need an independent watchdog to look out for their interests, and he should keep it up.

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