Rockville officials are under fire for spending nearly $200,000 on a confidential personnel investigation that ultimately found no illegal activity.
In May, the city hired the law firm Saul Ewing LLP to investigate employee complaints and review the city’s personnel policies. The report found no unlawful conduct, according to a statement from the city last week.
“The firm found that no one person, department or policy was at the root of the complaints,” the statement said.
The report is confidential because it contains personnel information that cannot be made public, the statement said. Rockville’s Mayor and Council received a briefing on the report’s findings during a closed meeting Nov. 27.
The Montgomery County Sentinel reported earlier this year that five former city employees said their evaluations were unprofessionally conducted, and complaints were not addressed properly by the human resources department. Rockville was notified of one complaint filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, city spokeswoman Marylou Berg said in May. The agency dismissed the complaint.
The report from Saul Ewing’s investigation recommends that the city update its Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual and improve training to ensure consistent interpretation and application. It also recommends purchasing software to track and monitor employee complaints and evaluations, clarifying performance evaluation policies, and affirming that all personnel information remains confidential.
“I fully support all the recommendations that Saul Ewing made, and we will be working systematically to implement these,” City Manager Barb Matthews told The Gazette.
Anne M. Robbins, who previously served on the council for 10 years, criticized the amount of money spent on the investigation and 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.
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.”
In a separate interview with The Gazette, Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio sarcastically questioned whether people would be happier if the investigation found a lot of terrible things happening. She said the Saul Ewing conducted more than 40 interviews during 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.”
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.”
Marcuccio and Pierzchala said the Mayor and Council did not receive the full report, because the city manager oversees personnel issues.
Robbins 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.