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Inspector general reveals wasteful spending, time theft at Baltimore's Department of Transportation

Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming made her report available Tuesday.
Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming made her report available Tuesday. (Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun)

An expensive machine that only one employee knows how to use. A husband and wife who used city resources to run their side business.

A report made public Tuesday by the Office of the Inspector General revealed wasteful spending at the city’s Department of Transportation and the misuse of time and resources by employees in the department’s signs and markings section.

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Asked whether the employees involved had been fired, German Vigil, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the department does not comment on personnel matters.

According to the inspector general’s report, the department’s 2013 purchase of a $215,480 sign-cutting machine, which cost twice as much as a machine previously used, was justified because it would supposedly need only infrequent repairs. But the machine, called a WaterJet because it uses water to cut metal, has since cost $36,000 in repairs, and is now rarely used.

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And only one employee knows how to use it — even after the city spent $3,417 to send four DOT employees to a training at which they were supposed to learn how to use the WaterJet well enough to train their co-workers.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh ordered a security review of the city's computer systems after an employee at the water department was found with hacking tools and guides to picking locks on his work computer. The city inspector general says the employee no longer works for the city.

None of the employees involved were named in the report.

According to the report, a husband and wife employed by DOT’s signs and markings section used city property to make artwork and run a side business while they were on the clock. They then lied about it to investigators, saying they had received permission from their bosses to work on personal projects and only did the work during their lunch hours.

Investigators found otherwise. They analyzed the employees’ work computer hard drives and email and found multiple occasions during which each had worked on side projects during the workday. Furthermore, DOT bosses denied ever giving employees permission to produce outside work on city-owned equipment.

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In response to the report, a memo from Laetitia Griffin, chief of administration for DOT, to Isabel Mercedes Cumming, the city’s inspector general, said the two employees in question had been disciplined and that the department would hire a supervisor to oversee the signs and markings section.

Additionally, Griffin wrote, the department will evaluate the costs of the WaterJet machine and better train employees.

In a letter to Mercedes Cumming, Mayor Catherine Pugh thanked her for the “thorough report” and said she had reviewed the report’s findings with DOT director Michelle Pourciau.

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