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Departing employees, including 2 who’ve faced scrutiny, outpace Baltimore police officers as city’s top earners

Baltimore City Hall is shown on July 8, 2019.
Baltimore City Hall is shown on July 8, 2019. (Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun)

Two former Baltimore employees swept up in separate scandals involving shredded documents and inflated maintenance bills were among the top earners in city government last fiscal year, together pocketing more than $700,000 as they walked out the door.

Robert W. Gibson, who oversaw city vehicles from police cars to lawn mowers, left city employment in January after a Baltimore inspector general’s office report accused him of a cozy relationship with an East Baltimore repair shop overbilling the city.

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For the fiscal year that began July 2019 and ended June 30, Gibson’s annual salary was $153,000. On top of salary, he cashed in hundreds of thousands of dollars in unused vacation, personal leave and sick time. That made him Baltimore’s top earner for fiscal year 2020 with about $373,100 in compensation, according to the city’s newly updated salary database.

Also among the top three was B. Harriette Taylor, the former deputy city comptroller who retired in April. She allegedly returned to her former office a few weeks ago and started shredding documents, to the concern of attorneys for the city.

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Taylor had an annual salary of about $172,000. Her wages, plus vacation, sick time and personal leave, added up to nearly $338,600, according to the database and information provided by the mayor’s office. That made her the third-highest compensated city employee for the year.

Taylor worked 24 years for the city; Gibson, 42 years. Their cases highlight older, generous compensation programs that permitted city employees to stockpile vacation time and personal days worth cash upon retirement. Before capping the benefit in 2015, a city spending panel noted Baltimore could owe more than $122 million in accrued leave time.

Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott said the high-dollar payouts demonstrate a need for reform. Scott said he will ask city agencies to identify the number of longtime employees expected to retire in the coming years, and how much leave they’ve accrued.

“We have to have a deep, thorough look that brings a balanced approach and protects workers who’ve earned their right to this time, but also protects the taxpayers,” he said.

In 2015, city leaders capped accrued leave time at 45 days. Still, workers who already had accrued additional leave were permitted to keep their days.

The second-place earner in the last fiscal year was Assistant Fire Chief Mark Wagner, a 39-year veteran who retired in December. His annual salary was about $157,000. He received payment for vacation, sick time and personal days to reach a total of about $352,600 in compensation.

The big payouts to departing employees meant that fiscal year 2020 was the first in years that police officers made up fewer than half the city’s Top 10 earners. The highest-paid cop was Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, with a $275,000 salary.

The department for years has struggled for years to reduce overtime expenses. Some officers worked so much overtime they doubled their salaries. Members of the City Council have said they worry about the health of officers — and of the public — when police work as many as 70 hours a week. Harrison has pledged to enforce the department’s limit of 32 overtime hours a week per person.

In fiscal year 2020, the department’s total pay exceeded base salaries by about $42 million. That’s down from nearly $51 million two years ago. The median pay for all employees of the police department — not just cops — was $92,723. That’s about $500 less than the year before.

Deputy fire chiefs Joe Wade and Mark Fletcher pushed their way into the Top 10 earners for fiscal year 2020, collecting totals of $268,100 and $263,100, respectively. The fire department spent nearly $22 million more than its base salaries. Median pay for a firefighter was $84,000.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby ranked ninth, receiving her salary of nearly $238,800.

These top salaries exceed the highest earners in years past. For example, in fiscal year 2019, the most money went to Sgt. Ethan Newberg: $260,775 in salary and overtime.

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In the latest fiscal year, six people exceeded that amount, including Gibson, Taylor and Wagner — who left each with more than $300,000.

Taylor, the former deputy comptroller, did not return a message Monday seeking comment. She made headlines earlier this month for walking into City Hall, which is mostly closed to the public because of the coronavirus, and shredding documents in her old workplace for several hours.

It’s unclear what she was shredding. City Solicitor Dana Moore said she learned Taylor was in City Hall on both Aug. 6 and Aug. 7, and asked the inspector general to collect the shredded papers and investigate. The comptroller’s office was already under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, which has declined to comment on an open matter.

Taylor’s $338,600 payout included $133,100 in accrued vacation days and about $47,500 in unused sick time.

Similarly, Gibson, who managed city vehicles, collected nearly $150,800 in unused vacation time and $73,600 in accrued sick days.

The inspector general issued a report in January alleging Holabird Enterprises of Maryland Inc. carried out a years-long scheme to overcharge the city for equipment, such as snow plows. The company overbilled the city by more than $160,000, according to the report.

The report does not name Gibson, but refers to an “executive of the Fleet Maintenance Division.” The city general services department’s reply to the report said the executive was no longer employed by the city. Chichi Nyagah-Nash, the director of the department, didn’t respond Monday to a message seeking comment.

Gibson is identified as the executive in a lawsuit the city filed against the company seeking to recover its money.

Gibson declined to comment Monday.

In her report, Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming wrote that Gibson had a conflict of interest with the repair shop. He was allowed to work on his personal vehicle there and even kept a shipping container of spare parts at the site. In addition, one of Gibson’s relatives left city employment to work for Holabird, she wrote.

Cumming also reported the company subcontracted some work, but passed it off as its own. In response to her report, the city spending panel voted to cancel contracts with Holabird and blacklist the company.

City attorneys sued the company in April in Baltimore Circuit Court to recover the money. Holabird answered with a lawsuit of its own seeking to reinstate the city contracts and the matter is pending.

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An attorney for Holabird called the allegations “ridiculous.” Robert Dashiell, the attorney, said Holabird maintained an agreement with the city that the company may mark up bills by 20%. Further, Dashiell said, the contractor hired technicians to perform specialized work — not subcontractors.

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“The city is claiming overbilling because the city believes they could have obtained the goods cheaper from somebody else,” he said. “Well, if that’s the case, they should have obtained a contract from someone else.”

Dashiell said Gibson and Holabird’s owner Lawrence Ward share an interest in race cars.

“That had nothing to do with the city contract,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Steve Earley contributed to this article.

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