Council looks for closed-session on controversial Saul Ewing report
ROCKVILLE – Even with a new acting city manager in charge of staff, a report investigating claims of discrimination against city staff is likely to remain sealed – at least for the short term.
Acting City Manager Craig Simoneau, who took over as the city’s chief executive Feb. 29 following the termination of his predecessor Barbara Matthews, said he has not seen the controversial Saul Ewing report, although he was interviewed for it years ago.
Matthews and city attorney Debra Daniel Yerg had access to the report, which cost the City Council $190,000 and chronicled working conditions for city employees.
The city’s investigation came following a two-year investigation by The Sentinel which detailed claims from several city workers who claimed discriminatory practices by members of the city management staff.
Though at least one of the managers quit in the wake of the scandal, there are still several managers named in The Sentinel reports who are still in authority at the city.
None of the current or prior city council members have seen the report though the city council voted to fund the Saul Ewing investigation.
“I guess I do,” Simoneau said Tuesday about whether he has the authority to read it. “I do not intend to right now. It is not on my priority list. I told staff I’m looking forward, not backward.”
Council member Beryl Feinberg on Friday said she opposes releasing the full Saul Ewing report or even a redacted version of it to the public or the council in order to preserve the anonymity of city staffers named in the report.
Instead, Feinberg said she favors the mayor and council receiving a high-level briefing of the report in an executive session from the city attorney.
“She could tactfully and diplomatically (brief council) about some of the issues in the report and let us know if there have been systemic changes,” said Feinberg.
According to Feinberg, that briefing would not compromise anyone’s anonymity but would focus on what changes have been implemented and what’s left to do.
She has backing from Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and council member Mark Pierzchala for such a closed-door briefing.
“I would support doing it in executive session,” said Newton.
The mayor conditioned her support on report not slowing down progress in the city, saying she agrees with Simoneau that the city needs to keep a forward focus.
“I think Craig makes a very good point,” she said, later adding, “It is time to move on and heal the city.”
Pierzchala also said he would support an updated review.
“I don’t see any problem going down that list of what has been done and what’s left to be done,” he said.
Pierzchala noted council members received an executive session briefing after the report came out in 2012, when he and Newton served on the council led by former Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio.
It included steps the city should take to address concerns about employee working conditions.
According to Pierzchala, the city’s Personnel Policies and Procedures Manual was updated, as recommended in the report.
Other recommendations included keeping personnel information sealed, purchasing software to track employee issues; developing an electronic performance evaluation system; and improving staff training on personnel policies and procedures.
Council member Virginia Onley said she didn’t think an executive session would be necessary.
Onley recalled she initially said, “We need to find out what’s in the Saul Ewing report,” but the second-term council member said Wednesday she’s “not even sure that is legal.”
After conferring with the city attorney that morning, Onley said that because the mayor and council do not manage city staff beyond the city manager, clerk and attorney, the report “can only go to” the city manager.
“We don’t have access to it,” said Onley.
Council member Julie Palakovich Carr did not return a request for comment prior to deadline.