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Baltimore inspector general reviewing morale, environment of city transportation department

Baltimore’s Office of the Inspector General has spent months interviewing dozens of current and former employees about the Department of Transportation's workplace operations and morale under Director Michelle Pourciau, according to a city councilman and several of those interviewed.

Isabel Mercedes Cumming, the city’s inspector general, said she could “neither confirm or deny that there is an ongoing investigation,” and Lester Davis, a spokesman for acting Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said he had no knowledge of it.

But five current and former employees told The Baltimore Sun that they had been asked by the OIG’s agents about the department’s environment and morale. City Councilman Ryan Dorsey said he had spoken with three dozen people who were interviewed and expects the final report to conclude Pourciau “is an explicit barrier to the department being able to attract and retain top talent.”

“Professionals across the country have become significantly aware of how devastating this director has been to progress on transportation in Baltimore,” Dorsey said. “There is nobody I know of who believes this director is serving the city well.”

Pourciau and the city Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.

The director, who was appointed by Mayor Catherine Pugh in June 2017, faced a weeklong delay of her confirmation because of complaints by members of the City Council about communication breakdowns between her office and the council.

In October of that year, the department failed to submit an annual letter to the state asking for funding for capital projects in the city, “due to the transition of staff.”

Five senior officials, including both deputy directors, left the department in the four months after Pourciau took over — one of them directly attributing his resignation to low staff morale under the new director.

In January, the official who oversaw the shutdown of the Baltimore Bike Share program and its replacement with a dockless scooter pilot program resigned, citing “bullying, intimidation, and outright harassment, originating from the highest level of leadership.”

The department, which has a $207 million budget and more than 1,200 employees, is responsible for the planning, designing, building and maintaining thousands of miles of city roads, highways, sidewalks, alleys, street lights and traffic signals, among other duties.

It is unclear when the inspector general’s findings on the department will be released.

The office has also been asked by Dorsey and Councilwoman Shannon Sneed to investigate city health insurer Kaiser Permanente’s $114,000 purchase of self-published “Healthy Holly” children’s books from Pugh during a period when the company was seeking a lucrative contract to provide health benefits to city employees. It has also started a review of contracts approved by the city spending board in the past two years.

Pugh, who is also facing a criminal corruption investigation by the state prosecutor, has been on a leave of absence since April 2, citing pneumonia.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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