Former Rockville councilmember questions cost of personnel investigation -- Gazette.Net







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A former Rockville councilmember criticized the city’s Mayor and Council for the amount of money spent on an investigation into personnel practices that ultimately found nothing illegal.

Anne M. Robbins, who previously served on the council for 10 years, said the city is “whitewashing” the situation following employees’ complaints.

“Why would there have been all of these ... comments from people on websites of things that were done to them, and suddenly nothing was wrong? You can have many things that are legal that are wrong and unethical,” she said.

The Montgomery County Sentinel reported that five former city employees say their employee evaluations were unprofessionally conducted, and the human resources department did not properly address their complaints.

A confidential investigation into the city’s personnel policies and procedures found no unlawful conduct, according to a statement from the city released Wednesday. In May, the city hired the law firm Saul Ewing LLP to investigate employee complaints.

Robbins said that since the results of the investigation came out, a lot of people have asked her to run for a council seat again.

“I am seriously giving it consideration now,” she said. “It’s a big decision, because when I left, I thought I left [for good]. ... This place needs to be straightened out.”

The initial contract with Saul Ewing was for $100,000. The Mayor and Council later added $90,000 to the contract.

“My question is, did they ask the firm for what? ... Are they finding things out?” Robbins said. “... So they forked over another $90,000, which a great many people were very angry about, but this Mayor and Council didn’t listen. Then you had almost $200,000, and most people were very skeptical about what was going on.”

Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio said Saul Ewing conducted more than 40 interviews in the course of the investigation.

“You have that many individuals, it’s not surprising that you’re going to have more work to do than you anticipated,” she said. “I don’t know that in their original bid to us they estimated the kind of response that they had. You can’t stop in the middle. You’ve got to get it done.”

Marcuccio sarcastically questioned whether people would be happier if the investigation found a lot of terrible things happening. She said the city needed to get to the bottom of employee complaints.

“If there’s something wrong, we’ve got a responsibility as an elected body to try to correct it,” she said.

Councilman Mark Pierzchala said the fact that the investigation found no unlawful conduct should not be overlooked.

“That’s a very important finding, and it’s why we paid the money,” he said.

The amount of the contract was reasonable, and the Mayor and Council wanted to make sure every city employee felt like they could come forward and be completely heard, Pierzchala said.

“There were allegations, and the Mayor and Council decided to have an independent law firm review the allegations, and that’s what they did,” he said. “And that took a while, and they were very thorough.

“At a very high level, they concluded that there was no finding of unlawful conduct; however, they did find some areas that needed to be fixed.”

The new city manager, Barb Matthews, can now take the report’s findings and recommendations and improve the city’s organizational culture, Marcuccio said.

Robbins said she wants to hear if the Mayor and Council stand by the report from the investigation, especially given the cost.

Marcuccio and Pierzchala said the Mayor and Council did not receive the full report, because the city manager oversees personnel issues.

Robbins was first elected to the council in 1999. In 2009, she announced she would not seek a sixth term in office. She said she expects the investigation to be a big issue, even into the next election.

“People are really going to start asking questions and start coming to citizen’s forums. I don’t think this is over by any means,” she said.