Tag Archives: Fire Service

The Top Twenty Seventh State Posts of 2020, Part Two

By Adam Pagnucco.

Yesterday, we listed posts 11 through 20 in terms of page views for the year 2020. Here are the top ten.

  1. Volcano in Rockville

In the wake of former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Andrew Kleine’s admitted ethics violations, County Executive Marc Elrich wanted him to stay in his job. But the county council was outraged by the scandal and exploded in public fury. The council’s anger wound up forcing Kleine out and opened the door to the ascension of the new CAO, former county budget director and state senator Rich Madaleno.

  1. Repeal the Linda Lamone for Life Law

The problems with the 2020 primary election prompted this historical post summarizing why the state has a law protecting its elections administrator, Linda Lamone, from accountability. Comptroller Peter Franchot and Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford called for Lamone’s resignation but she survived for the thousandth time. Thankfully, the general election was a smoother affair than the primary.

  1. Sitting Judges Get Temporary Restraining Order Against Pierre
  2. Progressive-Backed Judge Candidate Courted, Donated to Republicans
  3. Judge Candidate on Floyd Cops: “Lock Em Up”

It’s fitting that these three posts finished back-to-back-to-back because they all concern the nastiest judicial election in recent MoCo history: the challenge by attorney Marylin Pierre to four sitting judges. This one had a LOT going on: partisanship, charges of racism, charges of lying and even a temporary restraining order. The whole thing cast a foul odor over the ballot box and led me to conclude that judicial elections should mostly be abolished.

  1. Harris Blasts MCEA Over School Reopening

School board elections are mostly sleepy affairs in which candidates agree at least 90% of the time and the only difference between them is which ones are endorsed by the Apple Ballot and the Post. Not this year! MCPS’s boundary study dominated the primary and school reopening took the spotlight in the general, with Lynne Harris (the Post’s candidate) blasting the teachers union for allegedly resisting reopening. Harris told Blair High School’s Silver Chips newspaper that the teachers “were obstructionist, inflammatory, and just said ‘no’ to everything.” That provoked a furious response and the teachers are unlikely to forget it.

  1. What’s More Important? The Liquor Monopoly or a Thousand Bartenders?

Early in the COVID crisis, Governor Larry Hogan gave counties discretion to allow restaurants to offer takeout and delivery of mixed drinks. Many other states and the City of Baltimore allowed it, but MoCo’s liquor monopoly did not. The issue prompted a mass revolt by restaurants and consumers and the county ultimately allowed it.

  1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

County Inspector General Megan Davey Limarzi blew the lid off county government with her landmark report on an overtime scam in the fire department. The scandal involved more than $900,000 of overtime which exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Readers were all over this but I have not heard of anyone being disciplined for it. As of this writing, this is the sixth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. Restaurant: My Staff Will Not Wear Face Masks

Last July, The Grille at Flower Hill in Gaithersburg posted this on Facebook: “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen. Whoever you are that filed the complaint, you need to take a good look in the mirror and try to find some real meaning in your life.” The post provoked a huge firestorm from irate customers resulting in the permanent closure of the restaurant four days later. As of this writing, this is the fifth most-read post in the history of Seventh State measured by page views.

  1. MoCo Democrats Issue Statement on Ballot Questions

This post reprinted the Montgomery County Democratic Party’s statement on the four ballot questions. It was originally published on September 17 and initially attracted little site traffic. But it started to pop in early and mid-October and dominated page views in the latter part of the month. Most of the traffic was generated by Google searches. This provided valuable intel: thousands of people were seeking out what the Democratic Party had to say about a group of arcane and confusing ballot questions. And if they were coming to Seventh State, they were no doubt also visiting other sites with similar information like news outlets and the party’s own site. In the end, it seems likely that the party was the dominant force in driving voter reaction to the ballot questions as its positions carried the election by double digits. It was also a huge boon to us as this post ranks third in page views in the history of Seventh State.

On to 2021!


Top Seventh State Stories, April 2020

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in April ranked by page views.

1. IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department
2. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Five
3. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Four
4. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Seven
5. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part One
6. Liquor Monopoly Truck Crashes in Aspen Hill
7. Council En Masse Sheds Progressive Mantle
8. MoCo’s Most Influential, Part Six
9. Why Would Anyone Want to Build Rental Units in MoCo?
10. Delegates Call on Governor to Cancel Rent, Mortgage Payments

April 2020 will be forever remembered as the month that my sources kicked down the doors and took over the blog. Over and over, their collective judgment on the most influential people in MoCo grabbed eyeballs and riveted readers. What will they be asked next?

But the BIG story was the post about the “overtime scam” in the fire department, which at this writing is one of the top ten most-read stories in the history of Seventh State. This one was a bombshell spawned by an inspector general report about out-of-control overtime spending that has been so far ignored by the press and the politicians aside from one mention in Bethesda Beat. Once the county council wraps up the budget (for the moment anyway), it must investigate this abuse and take action to prevent it from recurring.

More top posts are coming next month!


IG Investigates “Overtime Scam” in the Fire Department

By Adam Pagnucco.

Last week, Montgomery County Inspector General (IG) Megan Davey Limarzi released a report titled, “Overtime Costs and Redundancies in the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office.” The title may be sleepy but the allegations investigated by the IG were not. Multiple fire service employees blew the whistle on specific uses of overtime at the fire department, with one calling the matter an “overtime scam.”

Overtime has been a controversial issue inside the fire department for many years, but this report is not a generalized analysis of the issue. It is an investigation of a particular program inside the fire service: its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO)/Diversity Office. The EEO/Diversity office did not have its own approved positions; instead it had a captain and a lieutenant who were “detailed to the Office of the Fire Chief on a full-time basis” to carry out the office’s work in addition to a number of other staff who were assigned “sporadically.”

Strangely, the office was set up despite rejection of dedicated staff for it by the county’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The report states:

During the FY2018 budget season, MCFRS requested, but did not receive, an additional captain position to focus on EEO concerns… The Fire Chief told the Inspector General and her staff that although this request was denied by the OMB, he continued with the program because he believed it to be critical. Since then, he has detailed two employees full-time to the work of the office, neither of which is an approved position.

On the nature of the office’s work, the report states:

We were unable to obtain metrics related to the EEO function of the office, such as complaints received, reports written, or referrals made to MCFRS [Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service] management or the County Office of Human Resources, Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance & Diversity Management Division. Staff members interviewed agreed that the EEO/Diversity Office was not engaged in formal investigations, but rather engaged in “fact-finding” and training regarding EEO matters and complaints.

The report also notes duplication and redundancy between the work scope of the EEO/Diversity Office and other offices in county government, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance and Diversity Management Division of the Office of Human Resources and the fire service’s Office of Investigative Programs, Fire & Rescue Training Academy, Recruitment Section and Community Risk Reduction Section.

In Fiscal Year 2019, the office generated costs of $919,000, of which $908,000 was overtime and the rest was compensated leave. The cost was roughly 10% of the fire service’s total overtime spending. The overtime allowed regularly exceeded limits established by the fire chief and was assigned outside Telestaff, the scheduling system used by county public safety agencies.

So what’s the problem here? The IG’s investigation was spawned by multiple complaints from inside the fire department during calendar year 2019. The report states:

The OIG received information regarding the lack of transparency within the EEO/Diversity Office. For example, we obtained a document purporting to be a reporting of sentiments of MCFRS operational staff concerning the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office. The document concludes that the “EEO Team” is viewed as causing “division/disruption in the department”; “untouchable/beyond reproach”; lacking “interaction with all people in a station”; and ignores “most people in the field”.

A former MCFRS staff member told OIG staff that the EEO/Diversity Officer has complete freedom to work and assign overtime at his discretion, it was common knowledge within MCFRS that the work of the EEO/Diversity Office was an “overtime scam”, and it was not communicated how overtime was assigned for that unit. Another MCFRS staff member told the OIG that he believed that there had been numerous occurrences where EEO/Diversity Office representatives working overtime appeared at events that were already being handled by MCFRS staff during their normal shifts. That staff member questioned the use and abuse of overtime by the EEO/Diversity Office. In a third communication to the OIG, a MCFRS staff member questioned the use of overtime and events attended by those assigned to the EEO/Diversity Office.

The report lists – but does not name – four individuals associated with the program who earned overtime in amounts ranging from $85,511 to $174,008 in 2018. Of these individuals, the report states:

All three of the career employees included on the of MCFRS EEO/Diversity Office website as either the EEO/Diversity Officer or one of his deputies appear on a list of 20 County employees with the greatest amount of overtime pay in 2018. At the same time, in 2018, the MCFRS EEO/Diversity Officer was the second highest paid County employee and an employee listed as an MCFRS EEO/Diversity Coordinator was the fourth highest paid County employee, buoyed by overtime.

So let’s review this. The fire service asked for an additional position for the EEO/Diversity office but was turned down by the county’s Office of Management and Budget during the Leggett administration. The fire service staffed the office anyway with employees who were detailed from elsewhere and paid them more than $900,000 in FY19, mostly in overtime. The overtime exceeded limits set by the fire chief and was scheduled outside of the system usually used by county public safety agencies. Three of the employees who worked for the office were among the highest-compensated employees in county government principally because of the overtime they were paid. There are no metrics on the office’s EEO work. The office’s work scope is at least partially duplicative with no fewer than five other offices in county government. Multiple employees complained about the office’s overtime practices with one calling its work an “overtime scam.”

The IG began reviewing the office in October 2019. In January 2020, the office “ceased operations” with the fire chief proposing that its work be conducted by a new unit that would also use overtime. That cannot be the end of this story. The following two things must happen.

1. Chief Administrative Officer Andrew Kleine must investigate the activities of the now-closed EEO/Diversity Office. The IG’s report does not draw a conclusion on the legitimacy of the office’s spending, although it does note the unavailability of “metrics related to the EEO function of the office” and contains allegations of overtime abuse. Kleine must determine whether this use of $919,000 in overtime and compensatory leave applied to legitimate work. If that turns out not to be the case, any involved individuals – both those who profited and those who enabled it – must be disciplined and restitution must be obtained. Kleine’s findings, whatever they are, must be made public.

If Kleine doesn’t investigate this, he owns it.

2. Since there is an allegation that the office’s work was an “overtime scam,” State’s Attorney John McCarthy must investigate whether any criminal violations occurred.

In the meantime, the county council must demand answers. The integrity of county government spending is at stake.