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Accountabilityby Mark Reutter10:06 amMay 3, 20230

Caught “double-dipping” from the city and the school system, employee continued to work at Baltimore schools

After The Brew identified the person who reportedly falsified his time records, City Schools said he would be terminated

Above: City Schools headquarters on North Avenue. (Mark Reutter)

The Baltimore Inspector General yesterday released a report about a city employee who concurrently held jobs in the mayor’s office and at Baltimore City Public Schools, racking up $104,354.63 from his dual employment.

Allowed to telework from home by the Mayor’s Office of Small, Minority & Women-Owned Business Development, the employee was hired by the school system after reportedly saying he had left his city job.

Between March 2022 and October 2022, the employee appeared at school headquarters on North Avenue three days a week and teleworked the other two days, while simultaneously getting paid by the mayor’s office for working the exact same hours from home.

The employee’s name was not disclosed in the report, and Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming declined to comment.

After a database search of city and school records, The Brew determined the person’s identity as Christopher J. Powell.

Powell had stepped down from his city job last October after his supervisor got wind of the IG investigation.

But he remained at North Avenue as a $117,000-a-year special assistant to Chief Technology Officer Thomas T. Jones, even though city schools acknowledged yesterday that it was aware he was under investigation for falsifying hours and his employment history.

Fired Last Night

Presented with Powell’s name and his alleged deceptions by The Brew, city schools last night said it was terminating his employment.

When it became aware of the IG inquiry, city schools “insisted that the employee resign from their employment with the City of Baltimore, which the employee did,” Sherry Christian, media and public affairs manager, said in a statement issued last night.

There the matter apparently rested until our inquiry yesterday.

“Following an internal review, the employee has agreed to separate from City Schools this month,” Christian continued, not explaining how or when the internal review was conducted.

“Any further action is a private personnel matter, and we do not publicly comment on personnel matters,” she  concluded.

Powell did not respond to Brew inquiries sent to his school email account, and Jones could not be reached.

Teleworking Fraud

Powell’s overlapping employment – paid to work the same hours at two government organizations, neither one apparently noticing the conflict because he mostly worked from home – raises questions about the oversight of employees allowed to work from home, Cumming said in the report.

Referring to an earlier case of double dipping by a teleworking Department of Public Works employee – who concurrently worked for the city and a private engineering firm for a year until the engineering firm flagged the conflict – Cumming said the city does not have adequate safeguards against falsified hours and alleged payroll fraud.

In August 2021, Cumming called on the Scott administration and then-City Administrator Christopher Shorter to review the policies regarding secondary employment and teleworking.

“Again, the OIG recommends that the city revise AM [Administrative Manual] 200-1 and AM 200-13 to address dual simultaneous employment while teleworking and how the AM policies apply to current employment with another agency,” Cumming wrote in yesterday’s report.

100% Work from Home

According to city records, Powell was hired in November 2017 as a $56,000-a-year executive secretary for Minority Business Development Director Paul E. Taylor.

In 2019, Powell was made a program manager at the small office, and his salary was upped to $90,000.

On March 17, 2020, during the early stages of the Covid pandemic, Powell was given permission – apparently by Taylor (the approval signature has been redacted) – to perform 100% of his work from home.

In accepting the agreement, Powell agreed to work at his home office between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday.

In approving the agreement, the agency director certified that “service delivery to internal and external customers” would not be affected by Powell’s absence from the office, that all “operational requirements will be met” and that the employee’s most recent evaluation showed satisfactory job performance.

In October 2021, while still working 100% from home and with a salary now upped to $92,250 a year, Powell applied for a job at city schools.

“Congratulations, your assignment has been approved by the Board of School Commissioners to be made effective March 14, 2022” Powell was told while he worked for the city.

On February 24, 2022, he was hired as special assistant to Chief Schools Technology Officer Jones.

“Congratulations, your assignment. . . has been approved by the Board of School Commissioners to be made effective March 14, 2022.

“Your annualized salary will be $116,743. The position is not affiliated with any bargaining unit. You will receive benefits associated with this unaffiliated position,” wrote Interim Chief Human Capital Officer Sarah Diehl.

Boss Knew in August

Assigned to oversee daily operations at the technology office and act as a liaison with school personnel, Powell was initially scheduled to be physically present at the North Avenue office five days a week.

But in May 2022, his schedule changed to working three days in the BCPSS offices and teleworking from home on Wednesdays and Fridays, says the OIG report.

Over those same work hours, he teleworked for the city, required to participate in two virtual meetings, “each lasting approximately one hour,” during a typical workweek, the report says.

“In addition to the weekly meetings, the employee was responsible for administrating the [minority business] website and internal databases,” Cumming wrote.

In August 2022, Powell’s boss became aware that he had a secondary job, but was assured by Powell that the employment “would not interfere with their work schedule or duties” for the city.

City: No Changes Needed

It was not until October 2022, after the OIG received a complaint and opened an investigation, that the minority development director “confronted” Powell. He immediately resigned from the city, while remaining on the schools payroll.

In a written response to the OIG report, Baltimore’s chief human capital officer, Quinton M. Herbert, defended the city’s current telework and secondary employment policies.

“While the Telework Policy does not explicitly address concurrent work, it does provided safeguards to ensure that employees working remotely are performing city business during scheduled work hours from a designated remote location in the same manner that they would if they reported to a city installation,” Herbert wrote.

The “spirit” of city policies calls for “employees not be compensated twice for working simultaneously,” says Baltimore’s Chief Human Capital Officer.

And regarding secondary employment, Herbert said that “although [city policy] does not explicitly state the prohibitions for concurrent employment between a non-city agency and a city agency, the spirit of the policy is that employees should not be compensated twice for working simultaneously.”

Had Powell not immediately resigned while the IG investigation was underway, his conduct would have “merited discipline,” Herbert said.

As it stands, the Scott administration has not tried to claw back the $35,666 Powell was paid by the city while he concurrently pocketed $68,689 from the school system.

To reach a reporter: reuttermark@yahoo.com

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