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Inspector General: Baltimore Housing Department employee stayed on payroll after moving to Europe

Inspector General: Baltimore Housing Department employee stayed on payroll after moving to Europe
A senior staff member at the Baltimore Housing Department was allowed to stay on the payroll as a full-time employee after moving to Europe to study and while logging just a handful of hours of remote work, the city's inspector general has found. (Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun)

A senior staff member at the Baltimore Housing Department was allowed to stay on the city’s payroll as a full-time employee after moving to Europe to study and while logging just a handful of hours of remote work, the city inspector general found.

Another employee received a similar deal after she moved to the West Coast, the investigation found.

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Both employees continued to receive benefits and they improperly used sick time to collect full paychecks, according to a report Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming released Tuesday.

A senior manager at the department approved the arrangements, which cost the city $14,840, Cumming wrote.

The two employees each made more than $90,000 a year, according to the report’s summary. That portion of the report, which is released publicly, did not name them.

Cumming said in an interview the arrangements didn’t provide value to taxpayers, especially given the small number of hours worked by the employee in Europe.

“I see no justification and no upside to the citizens of Baltimore,” she said.

Tammy Hawley, a spokeswoman for the housing department, said officials consulted with the agency’s human resources office about arranging for the employees to work remotely, and attributed the problems to “some misunderstandings and some errors.”

“We’re very comfortable that this is an error-based situation and nothing nefarious,” Hawley said. “Both employees were key members of the … team, made valuable contributions while they were here and did make valuable contributions while they were working remotely.”

Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman told investigators he was not the “architect” of the arrangements, according to the summary. In a written response included in the public documents, he said the issues occurred as agency leaders tried to minimize disruption “during a time of transition for the agency.”

“There was a miscommunication in the instructions given to staff during this time, resulting in agency procedures not being properly adhered to,” Braverman said.

The first employee moved to Europe in September and stayed on the city payroll until February, the inspector general wrote.

In September and October, he worked 4.25 hours per week, according to the summary. He took November and December off, before working an average of two hours a week until leaving the job on Feb. 11. The account said the employee collected a full paycheck while in Europe, in part by using the equivalent of almost seven weeks’ worth of sick days — despite never reporting being ill.

Hawley said the department thought it would need more hours from the employee.

“Going into the relationship, the anticipation was the need was stronger than a few hours a week,” she said. “Both relationships were meant to be short term in nature and meant to be during a transition period.”

The second employee left for the West Coast in August and remained on the payroll until November. She helped train her replacement, working 15 hours per week. Part of her paycheck also was made up with sick leave, even though she didn’t claim any illness.

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Had the employees resigned when they left Baltimore, they would not have been paid for accrued sick leave.

The senior manager who approved the deals gave their own login information to the department’s timekeeper so the timekeeper could enter information and approve the employees’ time sheets, according to the summary.

Hawley acknowledged that was wrong.

“There should have been another level of checks and balances that did not take place because of the login information had been passed on,” she said. “The oversight was lax.”

Braverman wrote in his response that the city was reimbursed “for the time that was improperly recorded” since the employees moved away and managers have been trained on time and attendance policies. He did not describe how the reimbursement was made; the report noted the employee who moved to Europe paid the city $8,700 for the sick time.

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