Since my first interview with Mary Ellen Belding, I’d been made aware by her of the disruptive effects of being a whistleblower—turning in a complaint against a supervisor— and how this trauma can manifest in various ways.
While talking with Belding, I’d noticed that as far as possible remnants of trauma, a question from me would usually cause her to spin off into a long, winding, beyond-the-scope-of-the-question anecdote. Perhaps that’s the result of trauma; She seems to think it is. In Pam Marcotte, on the other hand, I noticed stuttering conversation where she searched for the best way to phrase something. You could call it conversation anxiety. But I also became aware of fuzziness from Marcotte for details of events occurring after her admitted breakdown took place when, as she’s said, her memory started to block things out. What wasn’t apparent in our conversations were any physical symptoms. Marcotte explained, however, that there were:
“So, this harm to my nervous system, to this day, is messed up. I suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, diagnosed. I used to have panic attacks. Don’t have them anymore—praise the lord—lots of startling easy twitching. My kids would say, ‘Mom, your hands are shaking again; you’re shaking again.’ It really impacted my family. And that’s what really hurt a lot. In hindsight, I’m thinking to myself, ‘How could this possibly happen?’“
“Twenty-seven and a half years, eleven years as a managing architect, working my ass off, working hundreds, if not thousands of extra hours at home after my kids went to bed, get demoted and written up for working—for working—ninety minutes at home, OK? And I raised my finger to my forehead—Aha!—and now I’m brought up on charges of violence.”
What Marcotte referred to at the end of the quote has to do with the ultimate fate of her employment with the City of Rochester.
According to Marcotte, after two years of working in an intern cubicle, following having been a managing architect with her own office, she brought her hand to her head in what she described as an innocent expression, what you might call an “Aha”-type hand motion. Whether they misinterpreted Marcotte’s hand movement, a co-worker reported it as workplace violence. Belding was present when the co-worker was deposed in a hearing. Belding had something to say about the charge of workplace violence:
“The woman who made the complaint? She didn’t even—You know, I’m a frustrated attorney basically, based on all the stuff I’ve been into—so I’d tell Pam to ask specific questions. She couldn’t even answer them. She had to go back and read the complaint.”
The charge of workplace violence, honest or not, spelled the end of Marcotte’s working life with the City. Marcotte said of the sudden ending:
“And so, this is my career, right? So, I’m thinking to myself, that sucks, right? I don’t get to retire, I don’t get to do any of that. At first, I was very angry, and I guess now I’m angry in the sense that everything is fake, the truth has not come out. I didn’t even get an opportunity to make it into the court. They were never going to let me in court, never. And so, the reality of it is that most people don’t really know what happened, and whatever they know, I’m sure, is just one big lie.”
A common complaint of Belding’s, which came up in the previous article about her, is that there isn’t justice for whistleblowers in New York State. A specific regret Belding had regarding Marcotte is that she brought Marcotte in on an attempt at legal redress. Belding said of her encouragement to Marcotte:
Belding: That was my fault. Another guilt. OPI (Office of Professional Integrity) came to me and wanted help. I could help them with some of the stuff, but Pam knew the insides of the systems in the City where I didn’t. So we both helped them. Email after email, phone call after phone call, meeting after meeting, and they covered up the crimes. They did things internally to change the process – there were audit reports – but Hogan turned up the heat on the retaliation. Obviously, I’m assuming that people realized it was Pam and I, whether the OPI told them or whatever, I don’t know, and we both asked them for help, and they told me, ‘Go get a lawyer.’
UncoverDC: What was the retaliation from Hogan specifically?
Belding: For me, specifically? They were sabotaging my jobs; I wasn’t getting paid for work that was performed; they were holding twice as much retainage – like a holdback payment – than what was legally allowed. If you saw some of the stuff. I got a letter from Hogan’s buddy, who was the head of the Department of Environmental Services, that said they didn’t think I was going to finish a job on time, so they were going to start withholding liquidated damages. They didn’t think I was going to finish on time? Well, they didn’t think I was going to finish on time because they were trying to make me perform work that wasn’t in my contract. They were intentionally sabotaging my concrete forms; the stories go on and on. I’m lucky I didn’t blow my brains out because it wasn’t just one job; it was every job. What did they do to Pam? That’s when they came at Pam with the “violence,” a zero-tolerance violence allegation, because she put her finger to her head.
Belding and Marcotte’s involvement with OPI led to some positive developments, but not enough to overlook how they said they were hung out to dry by OPI when retaliation against them started. Not enough either to forget that though unfair business practices were changed, no one was prosecuted for prior crimes.
Belding: I have to say one thing for him (Tim Weir, OPI) and for Pam and I, they changed a lot of the practices there. He did audits. He would ask me specifically, “What should I audit, what about this, what about that?” and the same thing with Pam. So, all the things that should have been going on they were; he did investigate, and the majority of it, he did get resolved. People quote-unquote “retired,” the checks and balances definitely. What we both exposed on Hogan as far as what he was doing inside the City of Rochester that fell right in line with false claims, and the systems to protect it that were being ignored, were now being adhered to.
Tim Weir was contacted about an interview but declined and referred us to the City’s communications department.
UncoverDC: He (Weir) was good up to a point. There were the audits…
Belding: He did his job. Everybody said to me, “Miss Belding, I’m doing my job,” “Mary Ellen, I’m doing my job.” What I figured out was—and it took me a very long time—their job was to either fix it or cover it up, or both, and that’s what they did. I search this all the time. How many government employees—all this corruption in the country, all this corruption in New York State—how many government employees have gone to jail? None, except for Sheldon Silver and Tom Libous, and Dean Skelos. All these people that are corrupt, no one has ever gone to jail? Because they cover it up, that’s their job.
UncoverDC: So, if you’ve already done it, you get away with it, but they’ll change the rules to make it tougher on the next guy.
UncoverDC: But you and Pam did make a positive difference.
Belding: Oh yeah. Pam and I stopped bid-rigging. We stopped millions and millions and millions of dollars in false claims and grants being given to people who shouldn’t get them. It’s just like I always get, “You have no idea the difference you’ve made.” I get that from the A.G., or this one or that one. “OK, why don’t you tell me? Pay me. Tell me”, but they don’t want to admit that all this stuff is going on. And in my opinion, the reason is, it is so incestuous that if they started taking down one person, the whole place would fall.
*This is a 3 part article: Part 1 can be read here, Part 2 can be read here