Bernice H. “Harriette” Taylor, who retired last April as Comptroller Joan Pratt’s top lieutenant and clerk to the Board of Estimates, was the person found shredding records at City Hall last week, multiple sources have told The Brew.
Pratt today confirmed that Taylor was in the comptroller’s office last Friday and, shortly thereafter, agents from the Office of the Inspector General collected shredded paper from the room that Taylor had been using.
Pratt said the agents picked up “some paper from the shredding machine and, I was told, some paper that was in a trash bag.”
Pratt said she had been teleworking from home when a staff member called to say that Taylor had entered the office. “I wasn’t there so I don’t know, but I believe she had come to clear out personal things she had left behind when she retired,” Pratt said.
Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming declined to confirm or deny the Friday “raid” or say what shredded documents may have been found by her staff.
Sources told The Brew that Taylor was present in the comptroller’s office last Thursday, reportedly shredding agency papers. Taylor has not returned several voice messages requesting comment.
Last Friday, Fox45 News reported that the destruction of documents by “an ex-employee” in Pratt’s office had led Acting City Solicitor Dana Moore to advise Pratt to stop anyone from destroying records during an active federal investigation.
Last March, The Brew reported that the U.S. Department of Labor was investigating possible violations of federal wage and hours laws by Pratt’s office.
A federal investigator had questioned employees about a requirement that they work late one or two days a week to prepare the Board of Estimates agenda, but were not paid overtime or awarded comp time.
Asked if Taylor was shredding documents related to the DOL hours investigation, Pratt said, “She could have done that before she left and we would never have known.”
Shortly after she was interviewed by DOL, Taylor submitted her papers to retire, effective April 1.
Asked if Taylor might have been shredding payroll and hours documents on Friday, Pratt said, “Harriette is an attorney, and I can’t believe she was shredding documents in reference to the Department of Labor.
“That makes no sense,” Pratt continued. “Why would she wait four or five months to do that? She could have done that before she left and we would never have known.”
Phone Calls and Visits
Taylor had been deputy comptroller since September 1996, hired after Pratt won the first of her six terms as Baltimore’s comptroller. (Before Taylor went to work for Pratt, Pratt had worked for Taylor at the Legal Aid Bureau.)
In June, Pratt lost her bid for a seventh term to Councilman Bill Henry and will leave office in December.
Sources tell The Brew that after retiring from her $167,000-a-year job, Taylor made frequent calls to the comptroller’s office and was seen at City Hall on off-hours.
Retiring employees are required to surrender their ID cards, office keys, garage passes, and city-issued cellphones and laptops. And since the outbreak of Covid-19, City Hall has not been open to the public except to those who have scheduled appointments.
Asked how Taylor got into the building on Friday, Pratt said, “I assume she walked in through the front door.”
Records Retention Law
Maryland requires all public employees to “retain and protect all records in their custody” and to receive permission from the Maryland State Archivist before they “shall destroy, sell or otherwise dispose of any record in such person’s care or custody.”
The law further calls on agency heads, such as Pratt, to maintain an active and continuous program for the efficient management of records, including electronic records, and to establish procedures to ensure their retention.
Pratt said she believes all Board of Estimates records are in order and properly stored.
Since Taylor’s retirement, Pratt has presided over the board’s Wednesday noon opening of bids on city contracts, along with Moore and Acting Public Works Director Matthew Garbark.
Pratt indicated today that her longtime deputy will no longer be welcomed. “Harriette will not be coming back into this office. And she will not be returning to City Hall. She is not an employee.”
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