As told by her, the Pam Marcotte drama includes its share of incredible details. There’s the aforementioned old-boy network capable of making people in their way “marked,” and at the heart of the situation is a note left by a stranger, so game-changing, its appearance would be appropriate to a Twilight Zone episode. Marcotte’s story is, however, mainly about a woman who could easily be your frazzled neighbor and her concern over her loss of employment.
To try to bring you into her reality, this brief interaction was what passed for our introduction:
I was in the home of noted whistleblower Mary Ellen Belding with a camera in hand to take a photograph. I was about to submit a story about Belding for publication. I’d heard Belding mention Marcotte, but I had enough to digest at the time to keep Belding’s saga straight. Belding that day clarified for me she—and this isn’t nearly all of her whistleblower biography— had been “… a whistleblower for the New York State Attorney General, I was an informant for the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice on two cases, and the EPA, as well as gave information to the U.S. Criminal Investigation Unit of the Department of Defense.”
Belding is an example of the “real thing,” often having a larger-than-life-to-the-point-of-cartoonishness aspect. Belding’s story is likely as relevant as anything in the daily paper, but at the same time, it seems like good material for fiction. Just one minor implication of Belding’s sometimes—serpentine testimony would suggest the mafia or an organization operating a lot like it— may have had a hand in financing Cuomo’s rise to power. That angle appeared in the previous article about Belding.
While I was speaking with Belding, Marcotte let herself in through a back door of the home without a word. Belding explained the two of them did things like that; the women have had a bond since the initial contact between the well-informed stranger and the marked woman. Marcotte, once in the door, I can’t say made pleasantries so much as gave me the once-over. She sat for a moment, made a couple of comments, which I remember as bitter, and then left the room. I had no idea what to make of her.
When Marcotte and I interviewed for the first time the following week, she struck me as very thoughtful and prone to stuttering stops and hesitations in speech when she searched for just the right way to phrase a thing. Whatever the political aspects of Marcotte’s story, from her point of view, the one concern above all others had to do with inter-office politics during her employment with the City of Rochester. As it unspooled in various interviews I conducted with her; her story is as follows.
What Marcotte experienced working for the City of Rochester could be familiar, to some small degree, if you’ve ever turned in an evaluation of a supervisor and you’ve brought up a major problematic issue with their performance. You may remember the perception you had in the days after; you felt under the microscope; you worried, perhaps rightly, that now any minor infraction of your own could be used as cause for retaliation. That sense of impending doom can expectedly make for an uneasy work environment. And it would, most certainly, in the powerful way in which Marcotte said she experienced it, where retaliation manifested in spades and then didn’t let up. For two years.
The resume Marcotte presented doesn’t suggest someone flighty or prone to make problems for herself; she recalled that she’d methodically worked her way up the ladder over a very long haul to the position of managing architect of the City of Rochester. She’d started as an intern, advanced to junior architect, architect, and was eventually promoted in 2001 to become her division’s managing architect.
When Bob Duffy arrived as the new mayor, he had it in his power to fill various roles with his own people. However, Marcotte’s job was safe as hers was not an appointed position; she, it seemed to me in our interview, was rightfully proud to announce that she had been the City’s highest-paid civil servant. Two new faces introduced during the mayor’s tenure were Commissioner Paul Holahan and City Engineer James McIntosh. Marcotte said she had no major issue with the men until a particular job she described as “miserable.”
Although Marcotte and her staff had been involved with the design and construction implementation of hundreds of projects, something, in her opinion, was different about the Crossroads Garage project. Marcotte said:
“When it came to enforcing the contract on the Crossroads Garage, there were obviously some shenanigans going on. And my supervisor at the time, the city engineer, just looked at me and said, ‘It’s not my fault that Dan Hogan decided to get involved on the Crossroads Parking Garage.’ I had never met Dan Hogan, I did not know who he was, and I had no idea what that even meant, and I said, ‘I don’t even know what that means,’ and, of course, the common thread would be he’d just kind of stare at the ground.”
I spoke to Marcotte’s supervisor James McIntosh briefly. I asked if he agreed with her assessment of the situation, that work relations between the two had become strained during the project. He answered:
“Not necessarily. That was her perception, but I thought that we were working fine together.”
I couldn’t get very far with McIntosh in comparing Marcotte’s testimony to his recollections as my second, and more important, question disappointingly ground the interview to a halt.
I contacted both Commissioner Paul Holahan and City Engineer James McIntosh to ask them each the same question, which had to do with the timing of an EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) filing and “Section 75” charges.
Marcotte described that communication during the Crossroads project between McIntosh and herself became so uncomfortable, in a way so different from anything she’d experienced in her years working for the City, that she took the unusual-for-her step of filing an EEOC complaint. This wasn’t something she’d done before. The City’s apparent reaction to Marcotte’s complaint could be one for the records books. To give as dispassionate an account as possible of what came next, I reference a legal document that summarized the situation as it stood, “PAMELA MARCOTTE, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF ROCHESTER, Defendant.”
First, a choice excerpt describing the alleged offenses the City discovered in Marcotte’s job performance (perhaps coincidentally, just after Marcotte had filed the EEOC complaint):
“On April 23, 2012, Mcintosh, Holahan, and the City Law Department brought a disciplinary charge against Plaintiff pursuant to New York Civil Service Law § 75 (“Section 75”), alleging insubordination because she turned in something to her supervisor regarding performance expectations three days late. A second set of Section 75 charges was filed on May 3, 2012, alleging that Plaintiff had been insubordinate, had lied to her supervisor, and had falsified her time card when she left work 90 minutes early on April 4, 2012, for a doctor’s appointment and to attend one of her children’s sporting events.”
Second, the almost inconceivable detail of Marcotte’s censure (for working from home for ninety minutes):
“On July 25, 2012, Plaintiff was placed on paid suspension pending the outcome of a hearing on the Section 75 disciplinary charges. After the hearing, Plaintiff was found not guilty of the April 23, 2012 charge and guilty of the May 3, 2012 charges, although the City did not contest that she had performed 90 minutes of work later in the day at her home. On December 18, 2012, as a result of the guilty finding, Plaintiff was demoted eight pay grades, which constituted a $27,239.00 loss in salary per year.”
The document does not emphasize the link between what seemed to me to be the notable “firsts” in Marcotte’s life working for the City: Marcotte’s EEOC complaint was the first she claimed to have made in a career lasting more than two decades; directly following the EEOC filing, Marcotte said the various Section 75 charges were the first of her career.
I spoke to Commissioner Holahan first, who offered that he hadn’t been Marcotte’s immediate supervisor. Had I not already been aware of City Engineer McIntosh, Holahan would have put him in the mix. My single question to Holahan was, if the Section 75 charges were not retaliation, what changed about Marcotte’s performance that after more than two decades on the job, she suddenly began collecting Section 75 charges? Holahan said that he’d have to confer with the City to answer. Instead, he provided me with his email so that I could send my contact information, leaving open the possibility we might continue talking.
I contacted McIntosh next and repeated the question. It was McIntosh’s opinion he’d similarly need to confer with the City Attorney. He also provided me with his email so that I could receive a response.
I followed my calls to both men by emailing the question I’d already asked. I have yet to hear back from either.
Despite what would appear to be solid evidence of workplace retaliation, Marcotte’s legal case came to nothing. The sentence that begins this paragraph might make for the best possible answer if Holahan or McIntosh are ever asked again about the odd timing of the EEOC filing and the Section 75 charges. The reasons for the failure of Marcotte’s legal case are various. Still, one must include a shambolic legal strategy that had one of Marcotte’s lawyers disbarred while she represented Marcotte.
Marcotte said that her nervous breakdown followed what seemed to be an inexplicable situation in which the straight-arrow worker paid the ultimate price, and the bad guys won. Her humiliation continued as she watched another person assume her former position and take her office. At the same time, she was moved into an intern cubicle for her remaining two years working for the City. All this, including a salary loss of nearly thirty thousand dollars per year, again, purportedly over a ninety-minute discrepancy on a time card.
If not for a note left by a stranger, Marcotte’s would have just been one of the millions of wrecked lives, with no real villains responsible. Moreover, that note would arguably point out the way the City works.
THE FANATICAL AND RELENTLESS CITIZEN
As close to a moment of triumph as you can find in Marcotte’s story, you can reasonably imagine, was that moment when Belding contacted her, who explained that Marcotte had been targeted and that there was nothing Marcotte had done to deserve what happened to her. There was no reason to kick herself; there wasn’t anything she could have done to avoid what happened. However, that first contact between the two women wasn’t the emotional catharsis you’d imagine or hope for. As Belding recalled:
“You have to understand that we’ve been gas-lighted so much, and lied to, and tricked; she didn’t trust me for shit. It’s not like we hugged and sang Kumbaya together.”
In addition to being outspoken, it’s also meaningful that Belding has a somewhat fanatical nature. If it were not for that fanaticism, the meeting between the two women would likely not have happened.
Most people would have let it lie after Belding initially attempted to contact Marcotte at her office and couldn’t. Belding, however, said:
“I kept trying to find her, kept calling there, trying to nose around. I couldn’t get anything, so I knew that there was more to it. A friend of mine was a private investigator, and I had him find her. And I went to her house a few different times. I didn’t know at the time that she’d separated from her husband; I didn’t even know the woman. It was something in me that felt I needed to protect her in some way. I don’t know what.”
When Belding couldn’t meet with Marcotte in person, she decided to leave a note for her. Belding recalled:
“I went there two or three times, four times (to her house), and I couldn’t find her. I couldn’t get anywhere with the City, so I took a scrap piece of paper—she still has it— and I said, y’know, I told her who I was. I said I know what happened to you, call me, I think I can help you, or I want to help you. And I poked around the house. I’m lucky I didn’t get shot or arrested, and I stuck it in a door in the garage.”
Belding felt driven to find Marcotte after Belding’s initial attempts to reach her at her office failed, and Belding was left with an uneasy feeling. Belding said:
“I tried to call her, several times at the City, and I couldn’t get through, and, of course, I don’t want to tell anybody my name, and nobody’s gonna tell me anything, and so I did my snooping — I don’t want to say snooping – I did my – I just wanted to tell her that I understood. And that if there was anything I could do for her. It started out very innocently; I didn’t know how far he [Hogan] had gone, I didn’t know how bad it was. And then I found out that she’d been out on leave-of-absence, been out sick or something, and then I got this sick feeling. That’s all I can tell you.”
*This is a 3 part article, Part 1 can be read here