City to develop work-at-home policy after alleged scheme

Baltimore to develop telework policy.

The city inspector general says the absence of a policy to govern employees who work from home helped one woman avoid criminal charges for overstating her hours.

Sandra Baker, former head of the Environmental Control Board, was terminated in August for claiming she worked 81 hours — earning $4,252 — when officials say she shopped and traveled out of state and visited the hairdresser, pedicurist and dry cleaners.

"These incidents account for only a fraction of the true amount of time that Ms. Baker has been paid for work not performed," Inspector General Robert Pearre wrote in a report released last week.

Baker, who was head of the board that enforces sanitation, the environment, health and other quality-of-life issues, declined to comment. She told investigators she worked "24/7" because she often sent emails from her BlackBerry at all hours.

The state's attorney's office decline to prosecute because they could not point to a policy that Baker violated.

"We couldn't pin her down," Pearre said. He recommended that the city develop a policy.

A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the administration is exploring options. Spokesman Kevin Harris said the mayor is committed to weeding out bad workers on the payroll.

"The mayor takes it seriously and told other agency heads to do the same," Harris said. "This is the kind of information we want."

Pearre's investigation centered on the 7.2 hours that city employees work each day, and compensatory time — hours that are amassed for working in excess of those 7.2 hours.

Instead of receiving overtime, high-ranking employees bank comp hours that they may use at other times. When workers leave the city's employ, they are paid for comp time they've earned but not used.

As a result of the investigation, Baker lost 189.5 hours of comp time she said she had accrued and 118 days of sick leave, totaling $55,378. The city also seized $4,252 from her vacation payout, the report said.

But she received $66,650 for unused vacation, personal and sick hours, officials said.

The inspector general received a tip in June 2013 that Baker was not working all the hours she claimed. He launched an investigation in October 2013.

After agents "determined the allegations had merit," Pearre reported, they turned to surveillance between March and July 2014. While tailing Baker, agents found she often reported she worked the 7.2 hours each day and additional hours for comp time.

According to the report:

•On March 19, agents found Baker billed the city for 9.2 hours when she emailed her executive assistant that she was going to physical therapy and the hairdresser. "Enjoy your day off," executive assistant Diane Kane replied.

•On June 5, Baker told Kane she was going to the hairdresser and to get a pedicure, followed by the cleaners and a trip back home. Baker charged the city for 10.2 hours, but agents believe she only worked five.

•On July 16, Baker charged the city for 10.2 hours when she was at the spa between 11:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m. getting "the works." Agents believe she worked for 5.25 hours that day.

Investigators interviewed staffers about how much time Bakers spent in the office, and were told between 15 and 40 hours. One staffer said she had seen Baker only six times in the prior two months, according to the report.

The Inspector General's Office has grown since 2011 from three employees to nine. With more agents, Pearre said, tips about bad behavior have increased.

"We are hoping to make an example out of some of these," he said.

mpuente@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MarkPuente

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