Two city employees say they were shunned by colleagues and retaliated against by supervisors after criticizing a landfill repair contract. But as their civil trial opened yesterday, the whistle-blowers' former bosses said the two just didn't like tough management decisions and weren't team players.
Jeanne Robinson and David Marc, both Baltimore Department of Public Works engineers, claim in a federal lawsuit that they were punished for exercising their First Amendment free speech rights. Robinson's staff and budget were slashed in 1996 after she criticized the repair contract as part of a pattern of political favoritism. Marc lost the use of a city-owned car and was restricted in his use of a laptop computer, and his request for early retirement was denied.
"For something they should have been given a medal for, instead they were put in a closet," relegated to lesser jobs with fewer perks, attorney Howard J. Schulman said during opening arguments yesterday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.
An attorney for George G. Balog, a former public works director, one of three former department officials named in the suit, told jurors that Robinson and Marc were blocked from some projects because they balked at supervisors' decisions.
"They were excluded, not because George Balog threw them off the team, but because they said, 'We aren't going to run the play,' " said attorney Benjamin W. Hahn.
Other steps the two engineers perceived as retaliation were just tough management decisions, another defense attorney said.
For instance, Marc was told to share the city-owned laptop computer because the Department of Public Works' Bureau of Solid Waste had only 17 computers for 790 employees, said Paul D. Shelton, who represents Leonard H. Addison, former head of the Bureau of Solid Waste.
"That's not retaliation; that's a practical management decision," Shelton said.
Also named in the suit is Robert F. Guston, a former supervisor in the Department of Public Works' Bureau of General Services. Guston's attorney, H. Mark Stichel, acknowledged animosity between the two sides but said that because Guston didn't supervise Marc until 1996 and never supervised Robinson, he couldn't be responsible for any retaliation connected to their 1995 complaints.
Schulman countered that Guston was the right-hand man for Balog, who worked in city government for 30 years, the last 12 as head of Public Works. Like "Batman and Robin, they were always together," Schulman said.
The lawsuit, filed four years ago, raises questions about possible political favoritism in city government. Robinson and Marc charged that Balog and the others improperly favored one contractor in the bidding process for repair work at the Quarantine Landfill in South Baltimore. They alleged that problems with the work necessitated the closing of the landfill.
Robinson and Marc charged that L. F. Mahoney Inc. of Baltimore got the city contract as part of a system in which contractors who contributed to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's 1995 re-election campaign were rewarded with city work. Mahoney, Schmoke and Balog have denied the allegations.
Robinson was acting chief of the engineering division of the Bureau of Solid Waste, and Marc was an engineer in Robinson's division when they raised concerns about the repair work at a Dec. 13, 1995, Board of Estimates meeting and in later meetings with the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office.
They say they were moved to more menial jobs and denied promotions and extra pay. Defense attorneys counter that both still work for the city and that neither has seen a pay cut. The trial, which resumes today with testimony from Robinson, is expected to last two weeks.