Four months ago the public learned, courtesy of Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming, that housing inspectors in Baltimore were told by supervisors they could accept gift cards, free meals, cash and other emoluments from contractors and property owners as long as they didn’t individually amount to more than $50.
Upon hearing the news, Housing Commissioner Alice Kennedy issued a memo declaring that “City of Baltimore employees are not permitted to accept bribes,” a policy one would think would have made it into the rule book much earlier in the 226-year history of Baltimore government.
Yesterday IG Cumming reported on another oddity of city sovereignty:
Employees terminated by the city are eligible for rehire by the city, even if they had committed criminal acts.
That’s because Baltimore government “does not have a specific policy that determines when an employee is permanently not eligible for rehire,” Cumming wrote.
Expanding on the theme in a Brew interview, Cumming said, “We went to the city to verify terminations, and that’s when we noticed that there is a box that notes if a terminated employee is eligible for rehire. In almost every case we saw, the answer was yes.”
The Department of Human Resources leaves it to individual agencies to review the reason for termination and to dectermine whether it merits ineligibility for a rehire. (Just last week, the Board of Estimates paid out $225,000 to settle a lawsuit involving an employee who was terminated for sexual harassment, but then reinstated to the same social services job when the victim dropped criminal charges.)
In other words, there’s plenty of wiggle room for rehiring the dismissed, with HR informing the inspector general that “leaving the city in ‘not good standing’ does not equate to a permanent ban on future city employment opportunities.”
Ground Rules Needed
Charged with rooting out waste, fraud and abuse in city government, Cumming has recommended that the Scott administration establish a uniform policy involving rehiring.
Such ground rules are needed especially for employees terminated for stealing, fraud or other criminal acts, Cumming said, relating the recent case of a Department of Public Works employee who submitted a fraudulent job offer letter to win a higher salary.
The letter, supposedly coming from another government entity, offered the employee a $100,435-a-year salary and included peculiar wording such as “Please sign and return to start the hiring process.”
Confronted, the employee admitted the letter was a fake, saying they just wanted a 10% pay raise – OIG Report.
DPW “was interested in matching the offer to retain the employee,” Cumming wrote, until DPW and her office jointly determined that the letter was phony.
The counterfeit offer proved to be the work of an amateur, produced on an Adobe Acrobat program that contained text boxes linked to the employee’s username.
Confronted, the employee admitted the letter was a fake, saying they just wanted a 10% pay raise.
Enshrined in Workday
DPW terminated the employee, but Cumming soon learned that the employee was listed as “eligible for rehire” in Workday, the city’s new human capital management system, whose glitches were the subject of an earlier IG report.
Asked about its rehiring policies, DPW management said they were unaware of anything that would bar a terminated employee from future city employment.
HR and the city law department also pleaded ignorance, saying the final decision about rehiring was in the hands of the head of an agency.
The inspector general can only make recommendations to city government.
Richard J. Luna, interim director of DPW, told Cumming his agency had addressed the matter by firing the errant employee on October 20.
“We understand the importance of verifying employee-submitted offer letters and will take steps to strengthen our verification processes to prevent similar incidents in the future,” Luna pledged.
“Additionally,” he said, “we will continue to emphasize the significance of adherence to our agency’s policies” that still do not include criteria for rehiring the terminated.
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